Writer Janell Burley Hofmann's 13-year-old son Gregory wanted an iPhone for Christmas, and so he got one, but not without an 18-point "phone code of conduct" to sign. With a smartphone comes great responsibility, his mother insists.
"What I wanted to do and show him [is] how you could be a responsible user of technology without abusing it, without becoming addicted," Hoffman, a mother of five, tells Good Morning America.
The Cape Cod, Massachusetts, mommy blogger's code of conduct quickly went viral, with parents both praising and criticizing the mother for her expectations of her son.
Read the contract below:
Merry Christmas! You are now the proud owner of an iPhone. Hot Damn! You are a good and responsible 13-year-old boy and you deserve this gift. But with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations. Please read through the following contract. I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it. Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone ownership.
I love you madly and look forward to sharing several million text messages with you in the days to come.
1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren't I the greatest?
2. I will always know the password.
3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads "Mom" or "Dad." Not ever.
4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30 p.m. every school night and every weekend night at 9:00 p.m. It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30 a.m. If you would not make a call to someone's land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.
5. It does not go to school with you. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It's a life skill. *Half days, field trips and after school activities will require special consideration.
6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money. It will happen, you should be prepared.
7. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first or stay the hell out of the crossfire.
8. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
9. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room. Censor yourself.
10. No porn. Search the web for information you would openly share with me. If you have a question about anything, ask a person — preferably me or your father.
11. Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.
12. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else's private parts. Don't laugh. Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence. It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life. It is always a bad idea. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear — including a bad reputation.
13. Don't take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.
14. Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO (fear of missing out).
15. Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.
16. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.
17. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without googling.
18. You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You and I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.
It is my hope that you can agree to these terms. Most of the lessons listed here do not just apply to the iPhone, but to life. You are growing up in a fast and ever changing world. It is exciting and enticing. Keep it simple every chance you get. Trust your powerful mind and giant heart above any machine. I love you. I hope you enjoy your awesome new iPhone.
Gregory — who admits his first reaction to the terms was "Why? Why did she have to do this?" — agreed to the terms.
Hofmann tells the Associated Press that she and her husband wanted Gregory to have access to the new technology, but they also wanted to be involved. The rules were their way of setting clear and strategic boundaries.
She says she's received requests from other concerned parents who want to use her contract with their own kids.
"We have ritualized the gift of the smartphone," psychologist David Greenfield, a technology addiction specialist, tells the Associated Press, claiming that most parents don't have the know-how, time or interest in guiding their children then they first connect with the digital world.
Parents often only step in after things go wrong rather than establish boundaries at the get-go.
He emphasizes that contracts like Hofmann's are great, but only if the parents are committed to following through and ensuring the rules are respected and consequences enforced. He also cautions that parents need to set boundaries for themselves, and not just dictate strict rules for their offspring.
"Parents have to have limits, too," he insists. "We have to be brutally honest with ourselves on our own use and abuse."
Teen behaviour expert Josh Shipp is also supportive of the code of conduct.
"You wouldn't' give your kid a car without making sure they had insurance," says Shipp. "And so giving them a cell phone or a computer without teaching them how to use it responsibly is irresponsible on the part of the parent."
MarketWatch's Tom Bernis doesn't take issue with the rules, but wonders if the viral letter was really the best thing for a parent-teen relationship.
"But however reasonable the rules, there remains the question of how nice it was of her to use her son’s joy at getting a phone as an opportunity to start a very public conversation all over the internet," he writes. "It is also to be hoped that her son’s friends don’t take advantage of the opportunity to ridicule all the strings attached to his iPhone."
Does your teen have an iPhone? Are there rules of use associated with it? Should there be?