(Editor’s note: Dear readers – I’ve forsaken my responsibilities for a year and you for a month… forgive me. We crossed the pond July 20 and I’ve taken time to dig into my deep inbox, which includes inevitable death and taxes. Drudgery competes with fun for our attentions – the boys have enjoyed reconnecting with friends in a classic Tahoe summer; I’ve bought not one but two new mountain bikes to test my trails, and Sue is busy paddling and hiking most mornings.
In the coming weeks I vow to catch up on our travels through the Alps, the Canton of Jura, Amsterdam and London, and to mix in some travel and parenting observations along the way. I’ll start with the greatest parenting challenge of our generation… smartphones.)
It’s begun already… the Phone Wars. Today’s youth need never be bored, there’s always a smartphone and net connectivity at hand, with massive media & consumer technology industries lurking behind the screen to consume malleable mindshare. They mostly peddle mental candy – addictive dollops of irreverence, titillation and violence. I recall a parent coach advising us “The media is not your friend” – but increasingly big consumer tech is complicit. The $3 trillion dollar “Frightful Five” enable this surreptitiously slow cultural ambush: Apple’s iPhone OS deliberately denudes parental controls – it would be so easy for them to provide robust usage and content filters. Alphabet (Google) narrow-casts to our tastes, and thus narrows our perspective. Facebook/Instagram facilitate inane photo/video sharing. Microsoft force-feeds tabloid trash through Bing and its XBox glorifies violence thru Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Call of Duty. And Amazon? …Well I love Amazon.
So today with the new school year looming, we took a moment to update our Device Contracts to reflect the new realities of teendom. We involved Max and Ben in the negotiation to ensure their buy-in, and try to strike a balance that facilitates responsible social connectivity and independence, and retards mindless content consumption. Originally adapted (well, mostly plagiarized) from Janelle Burley Hoffman’s thoughtful and now famous IPhone contract, we’ve adapted it over the years, including a”heads-up” theme for our gap year travels:
WONDER YEAR EXPECTATIONS
EDUCATION – Emphasis is now on education and experience, so adjust your mindset:
- We want to be good ambassadors and to make local friends, so for each country we’ll learn a little language: please, thank you, you’re welcome, where is the toilet, count 1-10.
- Every morning expect about 1 hour of educational activity (math, reading, trip planning).
- Daytime: Heads Up! Enjoy the adventures. You’ll be out of your comfort zone most of the time – that’s the idea –
- Every evening we review the day, write in our journals, and plan the next day’s theme and adventure.
STAY HEALTHY – It’s easy to get sick when traveling, so hygiene is key. Wash, and Purell often. Carry tissues & wipes. Keep your hands off your face. Avoid meat, cheese and uncooked food.
STAY FOUND – Heads Up! Buddy rule applies: don’t fly solo. If you do get lost, stay close to where you are; use the walkie talkie or wifi calling every 15 minutes on the mark. Ask an authority you trust for help. If they don’t seem trustworthy, avoid them.
CRIME – Heads Up! Petty theft is common. Carry important docs, big bills and emergency contact/ID in your money belt. Carry the day’s cash in your wallet. Keep your phone in your front pocket. Don’t leave your backpack or valuables out of sight. Beware if someone bumps into you… pickpocket alert!
IN TRANSIT – Heads Up! You are most likely to get lost or be robbed in transit: be mindful and alert. No headphones, devices belong in your pocket. If you need to check your phone for something, don’t do it in the middle of a hall or street – step to a safe spot and team up with the family so at least one person is always heads-up.
DEVICES – We want heads up… not heads down. Adjust your expectations now for much less device time: Except for long trips and occasional downtime, devices are for pictures, communications, travel planning/study and reading, Period.
- Mom/Dad will have the devices most of the time. They are our devices and we will always know the passwords.
- If family calls or texts, answer or respond. Same team.
- No devices at meals. No non-essential device use during or within 30 minutes of transition.
- Standard rules still apply:
- On planes or long drives the rule is ⅓ device time; ⅔ for reading / social time.
- When you do have device downtime, never more than 60 screen minutes consecutively.
- You own repairs/replacement.
- Censor yourself. Don’t lie or deceive, do expect all device communications are public (just ask Hillary), no porn, no sexting. Put it away in public-restaurants, or while speaking with another human.
Today we reviewed, renegotiated and revised the Device Contract with the upcoming school year in mind:
OWNERSHIP AND ACCESS
- It is Mom / Dad’s device.
- We will always know the device passwords. We will occasionally go through messaging and content together. Keep it clean.
- If it rings, answer it. Do not ever ignore a phone call or text if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad.” Not ever.
- Homework, sports/exercise, sleep, meals and domestic duties trump device time. 60 minutes of non-educational device time per weekday, (90 on weekends/holidays) is plenty; to earn more read real books or write in equal proportion.
- We’re a family, so let’s be together. Hand the device to one of your parents at meal time, and every time we get in the car.
- Hand over devices school nights @ 9:00PM. We’ll return devices in the AM If you have a pleasant attitude & after your bed’s made, room clean, teeth brushed, laundry away, breakfast eaten, dishes done, garbage out, and other Mom/Dad asks are met.
- School mornings you may use the device from 7-7:15AM only for planning and communication, and after morning duties are complete.
- We’ll give you >= 5 minutes of firm cutoff / turn in time: you may choose to honor it on-time or lose the device for the day.
- During travel the rule is ⅓ device time; ⅔ for reading / social time; no devices within :30 minutes of transition.
- It does not go to school with you. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It’s a life skill.
- You are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. It will happen, you should be prepared.
INTEGRITY AND RESPONSIBLE USAGE
- Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive someone. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others.
- Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
- Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room. Censor yourself.
- No porn. Search the web for information you would openly share with me. If you have a question about anything, ask Mom or Dad.
- Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Protect your reputation, especially in cyberspace.
- Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human.
- No daily streaks – don’t be a phone slave. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.
- Leave your device home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO.
- Download music that is new or classic or different. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.
- Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.
- Heads up. See around you. Stare out a window. Talk to a stranger. Be bored… and let that make you creative. Wonder without googling.
You will mess up. We will take away your device. We will sit down and talk about it. We are on your team, and we love you more than your devices do.
Signed with love – Dad _____________________ Mom ______________________
Max _________________________ Ben _______________________
The contract approach might seem a bit formal, but it facilitates buy-in and reduces the more stressful seat-of-the-pants “negotiations” (really arguments) that inevitably result from Phone Wars. And in many instances, the boys have pointed to the contract to push back and justify more device access… fair ’nuff, a deal’s a deal.