Recently, a friend of mine told me about the experience of giving his kid his first cell phone (I think around age 11.) As part of the experience, he decided to write up a contract with rules of engagement. He went through it with his kid in detail and they both signed it.
I had stored this away to blog and thought of it yesterday as I was walking to dinner from Harvard Square to Central Square. The number of people walking down the street staring at or typing on their phones blew my mind. While many of them were college-aged (given Harvard and MIT), some were older. I know some of this is the density of the city (vs. where I live), but the dynamic surprised me, especially since it was a beautiful early fall evening.
My walk ended up being more of a “dodging people who weren’t paying attention” kind of drill which could be some bad video game that an AI is using our universe to play. Regardless, it feels like a cell phone contract like the one below might be helpful to kids, and their parents, and everyone else.
I, ______________, understand and agree to the following:
This phone is provided to me by my parents for my responsible use. It belongs to my parents and they may take it away any time, and for any reason they deem appropriate. They have the right to see anything and everything that I do on it.
The reason my parents have provided me this phone is that they believe that I endeavor to act and interact responsibly and that I have worked for and deserve more independence at this point in my life. This phone will primarily be used for: (1) Reasonable communication with loved ones, friends, coaches, and other people in my life; (2) To help me feel safe and act safely as I strive to increase my independence; and (3) as a lifelong and passionate learner, help me better educate myself on the go. Excessive use of this device for activities outside these three listed could result in the confiscation of my phone and digital privileges.
Possession of this phone carries with it a great responsibility. It is a powerful device that can enhance my life if used properly but has the ability to cause serious problems as well if used irresponsibly or in an unhealthy manner. I promise to use it with caution and thoughtfully. To aid me in doing so, I promise to be guided by the principles below and to follow both the letter and the spirit of the rules below. My parents have the right to amend these rules at any time.
BASIC DEVICE RESPONSIBILITY
- I will ensure that my phone is charged at all times.
- I will take proper care of my phone. If I fail to do so, I will pay for repair or replacement.
- I will ensure my phone is with me (and charged see #1) when I am out of the house so a family member can reach me.
- I will immediately get off or hand over my phone if a parent tells me to.
- There is no such thing as privacy online. Anything I type into my phone can be copied, read and spread. So, I understand that my parents (and possibly government agencies) have the right and ability to review the contents of my phone at any time.
- I will not text, email or post anything that I would not be happy being on the front page of the NY Times tomorrow.
- I will not take or receive inappropriate photos/videos. If something is sent to me that I think may be inappropriate I will hand my phone to my parent immediately. If I am not near a parent, I will close out the app and call a parent immediately.
- I will not add any app without a parent’s consent.
- When walking in public, my phone will be in my pocket.
- I will not listen to music or look at my screen while I am walking or biking.
- If I have to do something on my phone while out in public, I will stop moving, move to the side of the sidewalk, take care of it, then replace my phone in my pocket before I start moving again.
- I realize that this smartphone makes me a target for thieves, and I will make a point of being aware of my surroundings when I use it.
- I will never give out personal information to anyone online without talking to one of my parents first.
- I will never answer or ask questions about sex online.
- If I ever receive information or messages on my phone that are upsetting to me in any way I will let my parents know about it.
- I will not give anyone outside my family the password to my phone unless it is urgent. If I do give such a person my password, I will change the password as soon as it is convenient.
- I will always have “Find my iPhone” (or other tracking mechanisms) turned on so that my parents can see where I am at all times.
- If I am pressured by anyone to use the phone in a way that violates any of these rules or my own sense of what is appropriate, I will refuse to the best of ability, blame my parents and their rules, and report this to my parents promptly.
- I will acknowledge someone’s presence when they enter a room, even if I am on my phone.
- At mealtimes, the smartphone and all other devices are out of sight, both at home and at restaurants.
- I will always pick up the phone if a parent calls, provided it is safe to do so. I will always answer a text immediately if they text, provided it is safe to do so. If it is not safe, I will call back or text as soon as it is safe to do so.
- When talking face to face with another person I will not be on my phone.
- I will not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.
- I will never involve myself in conversations that are hurtful to others. If I am unsure whether something might be offensive or hurtful to someone else, I will NOT text, email, post or otherwise communicate it digitally.
- I will never share inappropriate photos, jokes, or websites with others. If I am not sure whether something is appropriate or not, I will NOT share it without speaking to a parent.
- I will not text, email, or say anything through this device I would not say in person.
- I will not text, email, or say anything to someone that I would not say out loud with their parents in the room.
- At important life moments – for myself or others – the smartphone is out of site so I can be present.
- I will not take a zillion pictures and videos. I will live my experiences without feeling the need to document them.
- Technology is compelling and addictive. I recognize this and will not allow it to crowd out the things which are important in my life.
- I will never keep my phone in my room overnight.
- I will adhere to the screentime limits set by my parents which count across all devices.
- I will not use my phone while doing homework unless it is to collaborate with a peer on a specific assignment.
- I will not be on social media of any kind.
- If I feel that I am becoming too involved in online activities I will ask for help, knowing that I will not be judged or blamed for this.
- Before I pick up my device, I will pause and think about whether I need to or whether I could be doing something else more useful or enriching.
- Before I hit ‘send’ on any email or text, I will pause and reflect on whether I’m being as thoughtful, respectful and constructive as I can be, and I will reflect on whether I am being true to my beliefs and our family values.
I acknowledge that having a cellphone is a privilege, not a right. I promise to use it with good judgement and to let you know when I make mistakes.
My Signature: _________________________________________ DATE___________________________________
Mom’s Signature: ______________________________________ DATE___________________________________
Dad’s Signature: ________________________________________
 And of course, my parents