One of the big parenting stories that garnered a great deal of interest over the holidays was this blog post from Janell Burley Hoffman that shared with the world the contract that Hoffman asked her 13 year old son to sign when she presented him with an iPhone for Christmas. Acknowledging both the expense and the responsibility that comes along with such a gift, Hoffman wrote:
Merry Christmas! You are now the proud owner of an iPhone. Hot Damn! You are a good & responsible 13 year old boy and you deserve this gift. But with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations. Please read through the following contract. I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it. Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone ownership.”
What followed was a list of 18 rules to live by that included:
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.
8. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
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.
As well as some beautiful advice:
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.
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.
And boy, did Hoffman catch a lot of flak for sharing this contract with the world. People were aghast that she could give a gift to her son accompanied by terms and conditions. People criticized her for being an overly controlling Mom who as going to turn her son into a pariah.
But I have to admit. I am squarely on her side.
Because I asked my kids to sign a contract several years ago when they purchased their first personal electronic device- a Nintendo DS. The contract I created outlined how the device was being paid for (because at the time some of my kids needed to borrow from the bank of Mom in order to make their purchase), and the conditions under which they could use it, and lose it.
I felt it was a very grown up way to teach my kids about what seemed like a very grown up purchase, an expensive electronic gaming device. For starters, we made the decision that this type of purchase would not be something that we ever just gave our kids as a gift outright, it would be something that we would ask them to save their birthday, holiday, and occasional chore-earning money to buy. We wanted our kids to understand that the “toys” like this are expensive and should be treated with care- and we felt that asking them to buy personal electronic gadgets with “their own money” would be a powerful lesson for them.
We also outlined terms of usage (that they could only play with their DS after homework and chores were complete), and the terms under which they could lose the privilege of ownership (temporarily of course, by not following our house rules). Our kids willingly signed these contracts (I mean who wouldn't? They were finally getting the toy of “their dreams”!), and I don't think there was ever a time when I had to pull out the contract to enforce the details. It really just served to lay out our ground rules and expectations as our kids entered their own electronic age.
It's now been 3 years since my kids signed their DS contracts, and my older kids now own quite a few more electronic devices…. iTouch, iPad, iPhone, Nano, PSP, Kindles… the list feels endless as I type this. In every single case, my kids have still had to save the money to purchase their own device. Sometimes it took more than a year- but they learned the importance of not wasting money and saving it for something they really wanted. And I have never again asked them to sign a contract…. we've just had a discussion of our expectations before each purchase was made.
I have no problem with the way that this Mom presented her rules and expectations for her son- even in contract form. But how about you? What do you think?