Phone Contract by Jen Hamilton, Licensed Educational Psychologist
It seems that middle and early high school is the time that many kids at Nobles are given the privilege and responsibility of possessing mobile phones. Often there is very little preparation for this ownership role. They have been waiting (begging!) for so long that the moment they have it in hand, they are off and running and there is no turning back.
How can we prepare our kids for the responsibility of having their own phone? They are only thinking of the 'fun' parts; it does not occur to them that this small device could be a tool to hurt feelings; to impede face-to-face relationships; to be the vehicle for really impulsive, lousy choices such as sexting; to open the possibility that they may receive harassing or bullying texts; to accrue bills for apps or online purchases without having a sense of how quickly these things add up; or to fatal choices such as texting while driving.
It is wise to set up some guidelines around the use of mobile devices (ideally, guidelines should be set up before they receive the device, but it is certainly never too late to implement some ground rules!) It is likely that your teen will say things like, "Why don't you trust me?" if you set boundaries around phone use. It is OK to explain to kids that trust is something that is built, and that a great way to build it is to engage in mature conversations around complicated topics. This question also provides an important opportunity to discuss the wide array of consequences that may exist when you text, email, or snapchat. For example, kids need to be aware that everything you write online or in texts is discoverable, public, and permanent, and that there may be great temptation to look at texts while you are driving.
A wonderful resource to help parents get up to speed on the many issues to be considered and discussed is Richard Guerry's book, Public and Permanent. www.publicandpermanent.com.
Another great resource is Catherine Steiner Adair's new book, The Big Disconnect. www.catherinesteineradair.com/books/the-big-disconnect. Once you have your arms around any ground rules you may want to set, it is a great idea to write up a contract which may include some of the following:
- Your parent(s) will always know your password.
- Your phone will sleep (charge) in your parent's room, starting at a specific time each night.
- You will never text or talk while driving.
- There will be phone-free times in our house (to be negotiated; this means parents/guardians set aside their phones, too) whether it's once a week or every night during the dinner hour.
- When you text, imagine your coach, grandma, friend's parent, future college admissions officer, etc reading over your shoulder.
- Before you send something, via email or text, wait ten seconds. Read it again. Refer back to the previous rule. Do you still want to send it?
- When you are spending time with another human being, BE with that person! Don't be with your phone near that person.
- You will mess up. Your phone may be taken away for some time. We will sit down and talk about it. We are always learning and we are on the same team.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic, as it is one that most parents eventually grapple with. If you are interested in further conversation with other parents, please contact me at JHamilton0f@nobles.edu, or Mark Spence or Mary Batty in the upper school. We will be glad to arrange a forum in which to discuss this important issue.