Kids, iPhones, and Rules

Teens on Cell PhonesA blogger recently went viral when she posted a list of 18 rules she made her 13 year old boy accept in order for him to have an iPhone. This topic is so popular, many articles have been written about this list and the author and her son have even appeared on TV to talk about it. I’m very curious what parents think about these rules, and the whole topic of children and technology usage. Please post your comments at the end of this article.

As a technology professional and a parent myself of two girls who use various technology devices, I have my own thoughts on these rules, which I share below. I mostly go in order of the rules as posted, but I do group a few of them out of order.

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.

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.

I think these ideas are excellent. I feel it is important for children to know that if their parents have paid for their devices or are paying the subscription fees, they are essentially borrowing the devices from their parents. If they break them, they will be responsible for the costs. And since the devices belong to the parents, any passwords on the devices are not to be kept secret.

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.

The first few sentences are about manners. This is fine. I’m not sure I’d put these as “rules”, but whatever. However, the sentence about always answering calls from Mom or Dad is a good rule.

4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30pm every school night & every weekend night at 9:00pm. It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30am. 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.

I’m good with the idea of respecting other families’ time. But I don’t think it is necessary to have the kids hand in their phone at a certain time. Just lay down the rule of respect.

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.

This rule I have a big problem with. It’s basically expressing the idea that the phone is a toy and doesn’t belong in school. Or that the phone can only be used for frivolous conversation. First, this is an iPhone, not a 1990’s flip phone. It’s much more than a phone. It’s much more than a toy. If the iPhone and other devices like the iPad don’t belong in a classroom, then nothing does. It’s time for parents to wake up and realize that technology is not just video games and chatting. Young people strongly identify with technology. If parents don’t respect technology, their kids will feel they aren’t being respected.

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.

These rules are basic guidelines for communication etiquette. They are smart things to make clear.

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.

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.

These are also smart guidelines. It is a good idea to set expectations from the start.

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.

I get the spirit of this rule. Don’t ignore people in front of you. But I think it is a little unrealistic to turn off the phone when in public. What’s the point of having a communication device if you are going to shut it off? I would suggest rephrasing this rule to emphasize more of the etiquette of communication devices in public.

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.

I’m not sure why we should discourage kids from taking pictures. Again, parents should respect technology or their kids will feel they aren’t being respected. Sure, some people when they get new cameras take a lot of pictures at the expense of “living the moment”. Usually, they’ll get through this phase by themselves. I don’t think it is necessary to squash a child’s creativity by trying to preempt this behavior.

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.

I’m not so sure about this rule. Again, why have a phone if you are going to leave it at home? This is again just reinforcing the idea that phones are just toys or frivolous things. Kids are going to see right through that and miss the point of the guideline.

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.

Seriously? Why are these “rules” here? I don’t argue with the sentiment of what is trying to be taught here, but I don’t think these belong in a set of rules for proper phone usage. All these rules do is make kids roll their eyes and make the other rules less effective.

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.

This is a great rule all the way up until the last sentence. Again, why the need to disrespect the technology? Young people strongly identify with things like Google. Many of them have never known a life without this type of technology. Why say something that insinuates that the technology is somehow bad or is a negative? All this attitude does is make kids think that older people don’t get them and builds up resistance to following rules like this.

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 & I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.

A nice simple way to end the rules. Again, setting expectations is a great idea. Then when the phone is taken away, it isn’t such a shock and the child can also expect they’ll get it back soon.

Overall, I think that if a parent is going to make rules like this for their children, they should keep things simple and stick to specific rules of conduct and expectations of usage. Don’t have negative assumptions or disparaging comments about technology and the way kids use it. If you want your kids to respect you and your rules about technology usage, you must show them that you respect the technology and the way they use it.

I grew up with technology from a young age myself. However, in the 80’s and early 90’s, there was even much less understanding of technology in society. Because I grew up as a kid interested in technology before it went mainstream, I feel I have a unique perspective on what children today face. I’m happy to share my thoughts with anyone interested, so please don’t hesitate to comment below or contact me directly.