I just published a blog entry response to the “iPhone contract” that made the rounds earlier this week (referring to the mom who wrote a contract with her 13-year-old son that outlined expected behaviors). I decided to take my own advice and have my kids take the lead in writing up a family technology agreement. Some of it might make you laugh (or cringe in recognition): http://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/lynn-schofield-clark-phd
The holidays are a time when lots of parents give gifts of technology to their children. And so, when a mom in Cape Cod created and then blogged about an 18-point contract for her son as she gave him an iPhone for Christmas, I guess I wasn’t too surprised to see that her contract went viral.
As a response I thought I’d post the contract that’s in the back of my book, The Parent App: Understanding Families in a Digital Age.
I got some of the ideas for my own contract from Common Sense Media, which provides great age-appropriate resources for parents who want help figuring out how to positively integrate technology into the lives of their family members. Like the contract that Janell Hoffman wrote, the contract in my book is meant to encourage conversation between parents and kids around technology. Mine includes not just mobiles but all kinds of family technologies and it also reflects a broad way of parenting in the digital age that emphasizes mutual respect.
I really liked that Hoffman’s contract included lots of fun. The one suggestion I’d add to that contract: I think it’s a good idea to create something that both the children and the parents can sign. From my research, I learned that young people learn a great deal from what they observe among their parents, and sometimes we have a hard time putting the tech down even when we really want to prioritize time with our precious family members (I speak from experience as an easily distracted multitasking mom of two teens!). So what’s below is not just a contract for a young person to sign – parent(s) need to sign it, too.
Here’s to navigating a media-saturated world together!
1. I agree to spend ___ hours each week doing activities with only my family members.
2. I agree that when I am at the dinner table with my family (whether at home or elsewhere), I will put my hone and other devices away and I will not return to them until we have finished cleaning up after the meal.
3. I agree that the following locations will be no-technology zones:__________________
1. I agree that I will tell someone in my family if I experience something online that makes me feel bad or if I find something that I feel is inappropriate.
2. I agree that no matter what I am doing, I will answer the phone when I see that a family member is calling.
Respecting the Rights of Others
1. I will download or use copyrighted materials only when they are legal to download or I have sought permission to use them.
2. When filling out surveys or questionnaires online or on a mobile, I will not give out specific information about where I live or where I go during the day.
3. I will give credit to others when I cite, quote, or copy their ideas or images from an online source.
4. I won’t copy, paste, and send a message to someone else if that message was meant only for me.
5. I won’t text and drive. Ever.
1. I agree that I will ask permission when I’d like to view what someone else has been doing online, with texts, or elsewhere. I agree that I will not hide what I am doing online and on my phone from other members of my family.
2. I agree that I will not share personal information that I wouldn’t be willing to see broadcast on our local television news.
3. I agree to limit play time on the computer to ____ hours each week.
4. I agree to limit game time on game devices, mobiles, or tablets to ___ each week.
5. I agree that I am responsible for remembering my own password, and I will not share it with anyone beyond my family.
6. I agree that I will practice respectful and responsible behavior, and I will not insult other people or send mean or inappropriate messages online, in a text, or in a comment.
7. I agree that I will not purchase anything online or enter a credit card for any reason without asking another family member first.
1. I agree that I will ask _______ (someone in my family) how to do _______ (e.g., how to play Minecraft, write a blog essay, set up a ring tone, etc.)
2. I agree that I will help _______ learn how to do __________.
Do you have some other items you’d like to add?
SNS and mobile phones can provide powerful ways for parents to stay connected to their teens. But what happens when things go wrong?
By Lynn Schofield Clark, Ph.D.
It’s become a familiar story: parents using Facebook as way to publicly discipline their children. Recently, we’ve seen the parents in Wisconsin who took away their daughter’s phone and then good-naturedly flooded her Facebook page with goofy photos.
But before this, there was the mom who replaced her 13-year-old daughter’s profile photo with a picture that featured the words, “I do not know how to keep my…. (red x over the daughter’s mouth). I am no longer allowed on FB or my phone. Please ask why. My mom says I have to answer everyone that asks.”
And another mom who posted on Facebook a photo of her 12-year-old daughter holding a sign that read, “Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor, I am obviously not ready for social media and will be taking a hiatus until I learn what I should and should not post. Bye Bye.”
Perhaps most famous in the “Facebook tough love” parenting genre is Tommy Jordan, the North Carolinian who fired nine shots into his 15-year-old daughter’s laptop in February 2012 in retaliation for the negative things she’d said about her parents on her Facebook page.
Such approaches are necessary, some have argued, in order to help young people to recognize the public and permanent nature of the negative messages they choose to post online. And clearly, teens and tweens are online and on the phone. There are now more than 800 million of us on Facebook, and fully 7.5 million joined under the age of 13. Moreover, 22% of all teens log onto social network sites more than 10 times each day. Half log on at least once each day. “We have to meet kids where they are,” as the mother of one of these punished daughters explained.
Meting out punishment online is just the latest form of openness and information sharing that’s become a standard way of life for many adults, as one recent study on privacy found. Apparently 40% of U.S. adults have little concerns about privacy for themselves or their children, according to that study.
Yet despite the new media twist, the parents in these examples are embracing a fairly traditional view of parental authority and punishment. Public humiliation has deep roots in several cultural traditions. During the Puritan era in the U.S., for instance, wrongdoers were subject to public floggings and time spent in wooden stocks. Children in the U.S. colonial era wore “dunce” caps to display their inability to perform adequately in schools. In Eastern societies, offenders had their heads shaved and were paraded around town on a donkey. These are forms of punishment meant to decrease undesirable behavior.
But is this form of discipline effective?
The psychologist B.F. Skinner argued more than forty years ago that such punishment can be effective in some situations, but cautioned that people need to weigh such punishments against possible negative consequences. For instance, the punished child might be more cautious in posting disrespectful messages online, but she might also learn that humiliating others is a good response when she is similarly disrespected by others online.
Facebook tough love certainly isn’t the only approach to disciplining online indiscretions. There’s also been a fair amount of media attention paid to well-meaning parents who try to prevent their children from engaging in negative online behaviors in the first place, usually by monitoring their online and texting activities. They also worry about the risks that the online and mobile environment might pose. Criticized as “helicopter parents,” these parents want to send their teens the message that they are looking out for their best interests. They are always in the background, ready to offer guidance for the young people who might need it (see “Big Brother? No, It’s Parents,”New York Times, June 25, 2012)
And like their parents, young people also aren’t always concerned about privacy. According to a Pew Internet and American Life study, 77% of parents have checked the sites that their children have visited, 66% of parents have checked to see what information on their children is publicly available online and nearly two-thirds of young people under the age of 17 are fine with having their parents as friends on social network sites.
So is this monitoring approach to discipline better?
Sometimes, teens in these families get the wrong message. They learn that their parents may be so willing to look out for and forgive them that they are rather easily manipulated. One teen in my interviews, for instance, described how she turned her mother’s concern for her into a source of guilt. She strategically used her mobile phone, texting her mother just before her curfew, but after she knew her mother would be asleep. As she explained, “That way, the next day when she asks why I didn’t get home by midnight, I can say, ‘well, I texted you at 11:45 to tell you that I’d be home late and when you didn’t reply I figured it was ok.’” Her mother, seeing the text the next morning, expressed appreciation for her daughter’s conscientious effort to let her know that she was all right. No harm done, the mother figured – except that her daughter’s disrespectful actions toward her parents’ stated rules went unacknowledged.
One thing that tough love and helicopter parenting have in common, then, is that both approaches are related to parental intention as well as to issues of parental authority. In the first examples, parents are attempting to assert their authority and demand respect, and they are using social network sites as a public platform through which to enact their desires. They see their children as strong enough to “take it” when they get the punishment that their parents believe they earned. In the second situation, parents see their children as capable of being strong and self-sufficient, but they also see them as vulnerable. Sometimes, parents in these families came from authoritarian families and do not want to repeat what they saw as their own parents’ overly punitive approaches. They might use the mobile or social network sites as a way of allowing their children to reach them at any time, which they see as a sign that they are giving their children the respect that they deserve. But both approaches can have consequences. While in the first instance, children might end up feeling disrespected by the parents’ responses, in the second, the parents might end up feeling disrespected as their children manipulate the situation to suit themselves.
What’s interesting about the new media context, however, is that it opens the possibility for greater mutuality in our relationships with one another, because it allows us to have more information about one another and to express more ongoing concern for one another than ever before. We can get glimpses into the inner worlds of those we care about and can, with motivation, come to gain an appreciation for that person’s frame of reference by spending more time listening and observing than speaking and telling. This is not an easy or automatic process, caution Linda Hartling and Jean Baker Miller, formerly of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at Wellesley University. Yet as they write, “when both people feel seen, known, heard, and respected in a relationship, they begin to generate mutual empowerment.” Mutual empowerment is a two-way process of relating that allows each person to feel that he or she can influence the shape of the relationship. An approach of mutuality is therefore not about parental intention alone so much as it is an acknowledgement that parents and their children construct their relationship together, and that their actions within the online and mobile realm are expected to reflect that mutual respect and understanding.
Research into parent/teen relationships online gives support for this approach. In the study Young Canadians in a Wired World, researchers who interviewed both young people aged 11 – 17 and parents of 11-to-17-year-olds concluded, “The teenagers who did share details of their lives with their parents were the ones who were not routinely monitored. Trust in this case was mutual; the parents trusted their children to behave appropriately and the children responded by providing them access to their Facebook page. This suggests that there may be an inverse relationship between surveillance and trust, and that monitoring alone may work against family dialogue.”
In relationships of mutuality, Netiquette experts suggest that parents might want to ask their children before they presume to make things public. “Would you mind if I friended you on FB?” is a good question to ask before attempting to “friend,” just as it’s important to let young people decide when they might want to remove a photo from a parent’s page.
Sometimes, though, teens act like teens and make mistakes, even when they are in these relationships of mutuality. Those cases might warrant an approach of restitution. Restitution is different from both “tough love” and too-quick forgiveness. Unlike forgiveness alone, restitution requires that a person be held accountable; unlike compensatory punishment, restitution points toward restoring the relationship rather than merely paying for crimes committed. The goal in this approach is to help the young person to make amends, not to make them suffer because you suffered. Restitution doesn’t have to happen publicly, although it might.
Young people like to know that their parents are looking out for them, and this generation of young people is growing up with more support than perhaps any previous generation in history. Rather than viewing new media as primarily opening new possibilities for risky behavior, then, parents might want to consider how these technologies can offer us opportunities to build deeper, richer, and longer-lasting relationships of mutuality with those who are most important to us.
What mutuality might look like betwee mother and son
A few days ago I led a workshop on digital and mobile media use with a group of people who were grandparents and parents of older children. One thing that generated a great deal of discussion involved texting. According to these older family members, the way young people communicate via text is shaping the ways that the older people in their lives are able – or, in less positive terms, forced – to communicate with them. And the older generation has mixed feelings about this. I heard stories like those of the grandfather who said, “I try to call my grandson but his voice message system is full so I can’t even leave a message.”
Older people see this lack of availability as an affront or a lack of civility. They know that the younger generation is constantly connected and thus they sense that they are a lower priority than those who are in their grandchildren’s (or their children’s) immediate peer circles. They assume that phone calls from peers are answered, and phone calls from older family members are ignored. But that’s an assumption rooted in a different life experience.
Most people over the age of 35 grew up in a different era when it came to the phone. Throughout most of the twentieth century, when the phone rang, you answered it. In the late 1970s, for instance, my generation debated whether or not having an answering machine was appropriate, and considered it impolite to “screen calls.” Screening calls, as I’ll explain for those younger than 20, meant standing still when the answering machine was recording the voice of the caller, listening to that voice before deciding whether or not to answer the call. Those older than 30 probably remember returning home to an answering machine full of admonitions to “Pick up! PICK UP THE PHONE. I KNOW you’re home.”
Caller ID wasn’t widely used until the 1990s. Today you know who is calling because their name or number shows up on your phone, but it used to be common for people to answer the phone by saying their name: “Hi, this is Lynn Clark.” Today when my pre-1990s office phone with no caller ID rings, answering it feels a like playing Russian Roulette. Will this be a 30-second interaction or a 10-minute one?
Today, in both business and in our personal lives, we’ve come to expect that we’ll indicate our interest in engaging in a longer conversation with a person, and we will give them the courtesy to have some input on when that will happen. In other words, we make appointments now, whether it’s to go on Skype or to have a longer conversation.
Answering the phone is a commitment. We only recognize that now because we have other alternatives.
Younger people see this need for appointment-making as a way of prioritizing time and relationships within what they experience as crowded and overly busy lives. They have been texting for as long as they can remember, and so they recognize that they have choices: they can communicate with people on an ongoing basis through texting, keeping the communication going, and they can also communicate with more depth when needed or desired, through scheduled calls.
To an older generation, it seems as if younger people have more agency in their relationships with the older people in their lives than my generation did, in that they can control whether a certain interaction will be shorter or longer by selecting the communication venue (or in effect, limiting the first contact to a short interaction which is usually a text). We perhaps forget that when we were younger, we also scheduled a time to have longer conversations with our parents. Usually, that schedule was set in advance: when we were in college, the military, or in young adulthood, we were to call on Saturday morning, or on Sunday afternoon. We didn’t usually have shorter conversations with them because it was expensive to call. So whereas we see the short interactions via text as undesirable now, we might have liked it back then, had it been available to us.
We need to recognize that when we call expecting an answer, it’s not that we are being ignored because they don’t want to talk with us. It’s that we are breaking the rules of the game: short interactions come first. Unless you are calling about something that’s going to be happening in the next hour or so, text first. To them, that’s a sign of civility and respect.
Social norms are still evolving in relation to these new media. The challenge for all of us is to recognize that our expectations are just that: expectations. If we can keep in mind why we are trying to connect with the people in our lives, we can learn the ways that this is understood by everyone involved.
Sherry Turkle on CBS, discussing our obsession with texting.
The MacArthur Foundation’s Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning featured an article on my book, by Heather Chaplin. The article compares my argument to that of Annette Lareau’s, in that like her, I find that there are certain parental ethics that have evolved within differing material situations, and those guide how families approach digital and mobile media. Thanks, Heather!
Chicago Tribune ran this story by Heidi Stevens that’s helpful for parents who are trying to sort out how to use technologies for education and family bonding. Cites me & Michael Levine of the Joan Cooney Ganz Center, and gives a positive mention to CommonSenseMedia.org!
The new online magazine Amplify has some thought-provoking and helpful material for educators and parents with articles by Marc Prensky, Scott Steinberg, and Marilyn Price-Mitchell, among others. I’ve got an article there (scroll down to see it) titled, “When Parents Aren’t Comfortable With Technology.”
“You can track your kids, but should you?”, The New York Times asked, and several of us responded.
“Can Gadgets Bring You Closer to Your Children?,” The New York Times’ Somini Sengupta asks. She looks at a recent study by a security company that identifies the growing trend in parental monitoring of children (and of teens’ resistance to this trend), as well as Common Sense Media’s recent study that suggests that many teens dislike the distractions of constant connection and wish their parents would disconnect more often, too.