Janell Burley Hofmann, a mother of five from the United States, became famous for giving her 13-year-old an iPhone under the condition that he sign a contract made up of 18 articles – or rules – for using his new phone.
Here's what happened next and what her experience can teach us....
One evening, Hofmann was wrapping a new cell phone to give her eldest son, Gregory, as a Christmas gift when she was struck with an awful doubt: “will my son still be able to handle this device without being completely absorbed by it?”
This question brought her to lay out to her son the conditions he would have to agree to in order to receive this gift.
This experience brought her to write the book, iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know about Selfies, Sexting, Gaming, and Growing up , which includes a list of 18 rules that cover various aspects of using digital media.
This 2014 release is written in a fun, witty, deliberately light tone. It might be a valuable aid for parents who are struggling with the same problem as the author.
"Gregory's Contract," named after her son, has already been a great success – and not only in the United States. It is now available on several “digital parenting” sites, sometimes without citing the source. After all, common sense has no intellectual property rights. Hofmann, however, has a very well-thought-out site of her own, full of incredibly useful resources.
Behind children’s behavior lies parents’ effort
The author, who deals daily with the problems she describes, speaks with a deep realism and at the same time provides concrete solutions. She suggests that behind every teenager’s behavior lies the effort or lack thereof of the child’s parents.
The fundamental premise of the book is this: technology changes many things, but it’s important to focus on what remains.
To those who are afraid to take up the task of educating their children about the digital world, she says that you don't have to have a degree in computer science to be able to do so… even if kids seem so good with electronics (often, they have better tech skills than their parents).
"The best way to overcome current and future challenges," Hofmann argues, "is to go back to the fundamentals of parenting... Parents need to identify and outline the principles and values that underpin their educational approach and adapt and apply them to technology.”
Below are just a few insights from the book.
Rule #2: "I will always know your password"
Rule #2 can certainly be bothersome to a child who wants his or her privacy. Surely, on any given topic, dialogue between parents and children is vital – even regarding what happens online. It's critical to establish and maintain open dialogue, which is up to the parents to foster. Before "peeking," it’s much better to ask, talk about it, and wait for them to open up first.
However, given the risks of the web, parents have the responsibility of protecting their children with added measures, especially for the youngest age groups.
If you perceive that something is wrong with your child's behavior and you find it difficult to address the issue (i.e., you notice that the child is has built a wall between you two), it may help to see what’s on their phone.
Rule #3 is about sleep
"The trick to creating an environment conducive to sleep is to turn off cell phones and other electronics at least an hour before bedtime." It's not just Hofmann who says this: doctors and pediatricians are increasingly agreeing that turning off electronic devices well before bedtime promotes a more peaceful night’s rest.
The author answers the most common objections: "It’s my alarm clock!” “Well… go get an alarm clock,” she says. "I use it to read.” “Buy a book," she says. "I want to listen to music…,” “Get a radio.” And so on and so forth…
Rules about manners online
She also provides various rules for displaying good manners online and respecting others, which could be summed up with this rule, "Don't say anything on your phone that you wouldn't say in person."
Rule 14 is about "fear of being cut off," something many parents know and view as a key reason for buying their children the phone to begin with.
Hofmann offers a response that relates to education in general. In her opinion, parents need to work on their children's sense of self-worth and gratitude, which goes far beyond electronics.
"There's a lot we can do to make sure kids are grateful for what they have, so that their points of reference aren't displaced by what's going on with their peers."
But how? The first step is really to educate oneself about gratitude. "Gratitude is contagious. Be grateful for everything."