Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Q&A – a technology contract

What kind of rules and guidelines do you have for technology around your house. (cell phones, i-pads, computers, tv, the whole she-bang)  I am trying to figure out how to balance this with my own family. Part of me wants to just shun it all because I am so worried about my kids turning into huge couch potatoes or those types of teenagers that ignore everyone around them because they are texting or surfing all day. (i really hate that) Do your older kids have cell phones? Do you have rigid time limits? Do you ever have to take technology away?

Short answers:

Yes, Max and Elle have cell phones.  And Grace has a iPod she can text from.  We don’t allow any television on school nights except for special occasions.  We haven’t had to take technology away from the kids (yet:). 

Longer answer:

Lately I keep having this sneaking, gnawing worry about technology.

I mean, it’s great and all, but I have been feeling so much responsibility as a mother for teaching my children how to control it rather than letting it control them.

And quite honestly, I think that as a parent I may not be modeling a purely responsible example myself (hence my resolutions back here, which really have helped).

I find that darn phone of mine cradled in my hand at all the wrong times: during homework help, at the park, during the girls’ bath time.

Sure, it’s “important” things I’m working on.  Most of it really is.  But more “important” than making my eyes shine with my children and husband and keeping my spirit growing??  Nothing is more important than that. 

Nothing.

Technology is sneaky enough to seep into places I don’t want it, and has the audacity to act like it totally belongs there.

A waiting list of emails wallow impatiently on my computer screen.  All.  Day.  Long.  And they never, ever end.  Messages from my voicemail blink at me unwaveringly.  Texts ding in my ear and entice me away from things I want to be focused on. 

So if I, the mother, am letting technology encroach the important parts of my life, how am I supposed to train my children to not let it rule their lives? 

Instagram lures them into being mesmerized by a screen and all the things other people are doing that they are not.  Group texts vibrate in honestly all night long (I know because I have looked at the times when they come in…how in the world can kids concentrate in school when they are up texting at 2a.m.?).  Twitter feeds spill out all kinds of details that no one really needs to know. 

Sure, it’s all fine and dandy to a certain extent.  It is wondrous and amazing to me that I can text Elle at school and remind her about a change in her tennis lesson right after school, Grace can text me on her iPod about being a little late home for dinner. Max can know that his friend is coming to pick him up with a glance at his phone.

But where do you draw the line? 

How are they supposed to grow up to be focused, deliberate, personable and passionate adults when their eyes are locked into screens all the time?

I have such a hard time with kids siting in the back seat of a car, or at lunch at school, or hanging out on the weekend, each in their own private “cyber world” on their phones or iPods when they could be having actual human conversations with the people sitting right next to them.  Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like it one bit.  What happened to going in and talking to the parents when you pick up a girl for a date?  Or asking a girl on a date in person for that matter.  Elle had a friend who was sad the other day and shared the whole texting conversation about it with me.  It warmed my heart that Elle reached out to her and tried to make her feel better, but what happened to picking up a phone and saying, “Hello, Mrs. ______, this is Elle.  May I talk to ______?”  and then letting a human conversation of concern and love ensue? 

Just as I was wading in my worry and trying to figure out how to positively entice my children to stay in the human world rather than letting technology wrap it’s greedy little fingers around their brains I was reminded of something I had read outlining a “phone contract” a mother had made for her 13-year-old when she gave him a new phone for Christmas.  And it hit me:

We needed our own family technology contract. 

And we needed it speedy-quick.    

I studied that phone contract (it is here), and decided to tweak it for our family. 

(By the way, I am as sad about the comments on that post as I was about the ones on this post back here.  Aren’t parents supposed to train and teach their children?  Having a contract doesn’t mean she doesn’t trust him, it just means she wants to open the avenue for healthy conversations with him.  And I am 100% in favor of that great idea.)

Dave and I went over my tweaked version of the contract together and then we introduced it to our kids in a special family council Family Home Evening.  Lucy didn’t pay the least amount of attention and colored to her heart’s content, but the older four and Dave and I had the best conversation about all this technology hoopla.  I’m so grateful for Janell Hoffman and her great idea because I tell you, we sat there and talked and talked about all the ins and outs of texting and tweeting and Instagramming…you name it.  They told us things we didn’t know.  We told them things they couldn’t know.

Below is the contract we re-worked from that original one.  We talked about each point even though it’s long. 

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The love and communication in that room where we had the discussion that night was tangible.  We took some input from the kids to further make the contract unique for our family needs from there and the goal is for us all to sign it to make it official.

How I hope that that discussion will be one of many to come as we all try to maneuver our way through a world with increasingly more and more technology at our fingertips.  We are the first generation of parents to deal with the influence of technology on our kids.  I just hope we can use it for good and keep up our human-ness on the side :)

47 comments:

  1. Hi Shawni,

    I don't know if you've seen this before, but I thought you might enjoy showing it to your kids. It really hits home the points you were making.

    http://goodnewsplanet.com/the-day-that-albert-einstein-feared-may-have-finally-arrived/

    Thanks for posting your (revised) contract. It's something we are beginning to confront in our family and it's a great starting point for our own discussions.

    p.s. Love your blog.

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  2. I love this idea!!! My dad always had a dating contract for me and my sisters and back then I thought it was totally dumb, but today I think he was pretty darn smart!!!

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  3. I love this! You are about 10 years further into this parenting thing then our little family but I love to read and plan now in hope of the best family we can raise. This was close to home for me as my mum has been sharing her struggles with my 16 year old brother that she never had as technology was not so available when we were youth! I love ALL these rules and the fact that you Included 9 and 11 WRITTEN in the contract!!!!

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  4. This is a wonderful post. My kids are still little and we haven't gotten into their technology yet. I am delaying their experience as much as possible. They all wanted iPods for Christmas and I said no way. You get legos and dolls and books. I think you make a good point about parents modeling appropriate behaviors with technology first. Our kids actually brought this to our attention and they helped my husband and I come up with a few guidelines for ourselves.

    http://www.raisinglemons.com/motherhood/get-off-your-phone/

    Thanks for being a conscientious, deliberate mother.

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  5. wow, I think your contract is powerful. It is wonderful that you have duscussed each point with your children, and built into the contract the possibilities or breakage and failure to stick to the rules - and made it seem like they will not be the end of the world, just a part of life - while still having such a positive feeling about technology and their access to it! Brilliant!

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  6. I love this contract and need to save it for later for when our kids reach that age. Already, my 9 month old is obsessed with my phone, and it's not something I just hand to him to play with - I usually hide it from him. It always pains me to see so many people - kids and adults alike glued to their phones, and even worse, I've realized my husband and I are guilty at times of looking at our phones too often. Time to make a change. I don't want our kids missing out on important communication life skills, and if they see us attached to our phones... they won't know any better.

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  7. I'm a middle school teacher and while technology can be a positive thing, I've seen the negative effects of it on my students. Last year one of my 8th graders committed suicide and it was devastating. She was a beautiful, popular girl with so much promise. Throughout the night of her suicide kids were up all night texting and face booking each other. So many parents told me how upset they were that their children didn't wake them up to tell them about it...they were all dealing with it in their bedrooms, alone and on-line. Teens are exposed to so much and are dealing with so many pressures we can't possibly understand and they are trying to do it alone.
    Thank you for posting some practical ideas for parents to help teens navigate this world of technology!! My own children are approaching the "tween" age and I'm filing this contract away for the future!

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  8. I LOVE this!! I wish I would have thought of something like this when my kids were younger....they are adults now. The only thing I might have added is something about not ever using a cell phone or texting while driving a car.

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  9. Please read this article:
    http://www.handsfreemama.com/2012/05/07/how-to-miss-a-childhood/

    I think it will really help those of you who are struggling with technology and help put it in its proper place. I know it has really helped our family.

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  10. This is fantastic and a total answer to prayer. Thank you!!!

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  11. Thanks for this post Shawni. Three of my children 'grew up' before technology took off at the pace it did these last few years. I have a fifteen year old daughter who has her own phone which she purchased and a shared family laptop. It is good to see that we are not the only family which doesn't allow TV in bedrooms and expects the cell phone to be handed in on school nights. My daughter has a Facebook account with the stipulation that we as parents know her password and can check up on her at any time. It is hard to get a balance between knowing what she is doing but also respecting her privacy, after all we had conversations our parents didn't know about. Love the contract and although I don't think we will be introducing a similar thing, it will be brilliant for discussion.We also have a six year old who occasionally plays games on the laptop or phone but only for short periods, she's not really interested yet. Challenging for me to think about my own personal use of technology.X

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  12. I'm saving this, as my kids aren't at that age yet. We've already made the rule that they get their own phone when they get a license so they can call for help if they need to. We have DS games that they can play in the car and also earn time for at home by doing chores. We have movie nights once a week and my little ones LOVE Baby Einstein videos, but other than that the tv isn't on. I actually want to spend time with my family and not fight for their attention.

    We were recently in Disney World and I was dumbfounded by how many people almost walked right into me because they were looking down at a screen. And a friend almost fainted when I told her I left my phone at home while we were away!

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  13. This is getting filed away. My kids are 3 and 15 months, so it isn't needed yet, but I was JUST talking to my dad about this as we drove home from the airport. I know I need this reminder. Once my daughter said, mom put your phone down, my heart sank and I realized I needed to STOP!!!! Thanks, you are an awesome example!

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  14. Love, Love, Love! Printing it now to file as my kids aren't in to technology yet. Thank you!!!!!

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  15. GREAT post!!

    While teaching seminary we would have a media/tech fast the week before conference - it was amazing to see how paralyzed some youth are without their phones. I LOVED hearing their testimonies of how they heard some much more from leaders by tuning out the white noise for a week.

    18 months ago my son's friend shot himself - after sending a group text to family. If ONLY they could have heard his voice.....

    Technology is like anything - the best and the worst. Your guidelines are awesome!

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  16. Thank you for this. I appreciate that the rules are seeping with love, concern, and understanding.

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  17. This is such a great great post. My baby is only one but already I have worried about this because of my own bad habits at time. I've recently been researching this. I know you always have a pile of books, but check this one out if you have time:
    http://www.amazon.com/iDisorder-Understanding-Obsession-Technology-Overcoming/dp/0230117570

    Thanks for thoughts and the contract idea

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  18. Shawni,

    I love this and you you did a great job on it. The only thing I would add to my own is a no texting/talking while driving clause. So important for everyone, not just new drivers.

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  19. Wow! Wonderful idea (and I love the changes you made to keep the gospel in perspective)! I am pinning this (I hope that is okay) for future use. My kids aren't old enough to have cell phones or anything like that right now. Thank you for being willing to share and not being afraid to share the changes you made to the contract. :)

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  20. I loved the original contract as well, but your changes are just perfect. I so appreciate your perspective on so many things. Love your blog. My girls are 8 and 9 and received ipod touches for Christmas. I feel its so important to help them learn the how's and why's to living with technology instead of shielding them away from it. Although they love these little devices, they aren't consumed by them and rarely take them anywhere or use them without asking. I feel like we have established some good habits already, but these rules will definitley come up at our next FHE :)

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  21. Love this. Thanks for sharing. We're not to this point yet, but I'm so grateful for this insight of how to handle what I know is coming.

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  22. Shawni, I admire you and your family so much, and I appreciate your courage in putting yourself out there for criticism. I just want to raise my voice to say that I really feel that 6th grade is TOO YOUNG for kids to have mobile devices that allow unsupervised texting and Instagram. Grace doesn't need it, and her tender emerging self-image is being shaped in negative ways by constantly thinking of herself as a series of images posted online. We've seen some really sad things happen in our community because of 6th graders with cell phones (or iPods). I have a 6th grader, and she does not have a cell phone or ipod, and she won't for some time. I know sometimes parents feel like "everybody else is doing it," so I just wanted to put it out there that we are NOT doing it, it really is possible and I'm so grateful.

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  23. I found this online - sorry I don't know who to give credit to but I thought it was great!


    Our family is currently participating in a “Fast From the World”, during which we are not watching TV or movies, no facebook, Pinterest, blogs (except a select few uplifting ones) gratuitous texting or e-mailing, radio or non-church/classical music. Our bishop invited our whole ward to do it, and it truly hasn’t been as hard as I thought. You said so many of these things are a “way of life” now- I thought that too until I stopped using them. Turns out the world keeps spinning and life goes on and we all still function just fine.

    Since the fast began I can see patience growing in all of us. The kids (8, 7, 3, and 6 mos) don’t even ask about the TV anymore- when homework is through they just go off to play a board game together, pull out art supplies, or we read a book together (The Mysterious Benedict Society is a fantastic read for the whole family) and they often help me cook dinner now too.

    My husband and I sit at the table and play card games after the kids are in bed or we just sit and talk. We’re really reconnecting.

    Our home has begun to feel like a true sanctuary, where the only influences allowed are our own. I know we can’t keep it up forever (after all, the Superbowl is coming up!) but it has definitely been an eye-opener for me. It’s been like a spiritual vacation. We’re doing one month- we started January 1st- and at the end we plan to reevaluate the role technology plays in our lives.

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  24. I needed this inspiration today, thank you!! I have been thinking about how I can teach my kids to control the technology and not let it control them, this is perfect. Thank you!!

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  25. Lately my husband and I have been just amazed at how many parents we know do not think twice about letting their kids have their phones and iPods in their rooms unsupervised.

    We decided from the start that all internet MUST be on our main floor and not in the basement or upstairs. They may listen to music, but their doors need to be open and at night, everything is put on our mudroom counter for charging. We have all their passwords and talk constantly about everything in the contract. There have been enough problems with misunderstood group texts that our 13 year old took herself off of Text Plus because the misunderstandings upset her so much. She was just in one group with friends from school with kids she sees every day and it was nasty.

    We have heard enough stories and my husband has seen so much (police officer) to know that this is what we want for our family. Our kids think we are too strict but we feel they are not ready to have unlimited internet.

    Again, I am amazed at how many people's kids have data or wifi in the house and they have their devices all night long with them in their rooms unsupervised. That, to me, is a recipe for disaster until they are old enough and mature enough to resist the temptations out there.

    Three examples that come to mind: I googled Strawberry Shortcake invitations for our little one and full blown porn popped up despite all our blockers. I opened Pinterest one evening to find several full frontal nudity photos posted by one person that weren't caught by the moderators. (And it wasn't artistic nudes.) And just yesterday our 10 year old came to me and told me that on Minecraft, a very popular building game around here, one of the servers she was playing on had sex rooms and people inviting players into private rooms. She plays this on the main floor right in front of me and I probably would not have noticed except she told me right away.

    Adults need to know that this stuff happens every single day! We just had a murder in our town by two seemingly normal adults who regularly and secretly visited a fetish website. Their participation eventually escalated into kidnapping a beautiful young kindergarten teacher in her mid 20s and they murdered her. I can't believe the media published the name of the fetish site...who knows how many curious young people went straight there to look and were intrigued by some of the things on there...

    I know it all comes down to teaching and trust, but I do feel like some parents have the wool pulled over their eyes and think this stuff would never interest their children.

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  26. my cousins daughter is 13 and really wanted to go on facebook. Her father finally relented and allowed her to get an account- but she had to give him her password and he goes on daily to see what she is doing.

    At first I thought that was crazy and being too "helicopter". But then i realized he was more teaching her to never say things or do things that she would not say and do in front of him.

    She has a great time keeping up with her friends and she never gets into drama on it like other 13 year olds.

    It is very important to be open with technology in your house and teach rules around what is appropriate!

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  27. I used that same contract with my kids. Loved it!

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  28. I love this post. I love that you explained it in person, and didn't just expect them to understand, or worst yet, just gave them a rule and never explained a reason why. When I was growing up, I remember a few times when my parents gave us a rule but never explained why, and it was always so frustrating for me!! Thanks for sharing all of your ideas. Your optimism is so contagious!

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  29. You took a wonderful idea and made it fit your family. I loved this post and I look forward to doing something like this when my kids are older and we start to have the technology come into our home. I am really glad that it was so well received by your kids and they were giving you guys feedback.

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  30. perfect. i pinned this for all my grands1 reason 1,000,000,000 that your blog is one of my fav!!!!

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  31. I've been thinking about this a lot. So, I am happy to see you posted this.

    Do you have a text copy or pdf copy you could post?

    I would love to use parts of it and rework it for my family.

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  32. Great work on this! I am so happy that you and your siblings grew up in an era of writing in journals more than writing in cyberspace. Makes you wonder what this new world will bring for those without guidelines and contracts. Love the whole idea!

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  33. Great thinking on this! I am so happy that you and your siblings grew up in an era of writing in journals more than writing in cyberspace. Scary to think about what this new world will bring for those without guidelines and contracts. Love the whole idea!

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  34. Inspirational! It's really hard as an adult to 'accept' what other people think is acceptable technology usage. I was so pleased that friends asked before getting out their phones to photograph food at a very fancy birthday dinner recently. My mother on the other hand... though her use was just to list what she'd like from the menu hahaha.

    Also, I was nominated for an award, which has the quirky 'pass it on clause' As I love and regularly read your blog I nominated you, though you are of course not obligated to continue the 'chain'. I just wanted to let you know :D

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  35. Hey! I've been following your blog for a month or so now and am so inspired by you! I've actually told a couple of my blog loving friends about 71 toes and we all visit your blog regularly! Thank you for sharing your life with us and for inspiring us to be better women, friends, and wives! <3 Jill

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  36. Shawni, I really like the balance you struck! I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to see how the conversation went down when you introduced the rules to the kids - I love to know how people make these things positive experiences instead of just a big grumpy battle of wills. My oldest is 11, and I think it sounds like a great time to set the expectations for the future (and now!) Thanks!

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  37. You are brilliant. Simply brilliant.

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  38. Any thoughts on kids using scripture apps on phones instead of the actual books of scripture at church?

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  39. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. Ricky

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  40. I really want to use this contract in my own family (with your permission.) Would you please post this contract in a form we would be able to copy?

    Thank you.

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  41. You have no idea how refreshing it is to read something that just makes sense! Thanks for always sharing with us!

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