To begin with, many can testify that my children know how to play. They have bedrooms full of well used toys, are experts in many card, board and high activity games, run wild in an amazing backyard with neighbor friends and tell stories from a long history of exploring cities, national parks and museums around the nation. Their time with technology has always been contained and closely monitored in order to allow them to develop as well-rounded individuals who can function well in as many environments as are required of them. This has not been a perfect process as I am far from the perfect parent, but the desire to nurture well-rounded children has always been a primary paradigm through which I evaluate my own parenting.
That being said, my oldest son is truly passionate about technology and all that it can do, and that does come with a potential for danger. People these days can escape the “real world” and replaced it with a virtual reality that causes many to lose their humanity and deadens their emotions and desires for relational, physical, or spiritual health. So when at 11 years old he began hinting at a desire for a cell phone of his own for his 13th birthday, I began residing in a state of uncomfortable dread. At least on our home systems and tablets I can filter out a lot of junk, and he is restricted to playing games in family spaces rather than with any privacy, but a cell phone opens the door of unrestricted access to a world that no 13 year old is ready for.
Here’s the thing I keep going back to. I know a cell phone is in his future, even if I don’t allow him one for his entire childhood. This is something I can allow for now while Stephen and I are still the most influential and prevalent figures in his life and have a ton of say over when and how it is used, or I can force him to wait until I have progressively less and less say. I sat down with him 2 months before his 13th birthday and together we worked on a list of the reasons he wanted to have a cell phone that included being able to text or call Stephen or me when we are apart, the ability to text and communicate with his friends and family, have the handy camera, learn responsibility by paying his own monthly bill, and lastly as reward for being a good, trustworthy kid, which he is. I wouldn’t be considering this if he was not an honest and sincere kid. Together we began researching and discussing the pitfalls and dangers before making an extensive lists of rules and guidelines that will hopefully mature into habits that become the healthiest possible relationship with cell phones and similar technologies. A healthy relationship with technology that is well-rounded with other healthy activities and relationships is, of course, well worth the effort.
I’ve thrown into this blog the rules of our contract for social media involvement as well. On his 13th birthday, he wanted to sign up for Facebook and Instagram to daily check the flow of information coming out of our very active church and its youth group. He also wants to keep up with our much beloved, but spread-out family across the country and even the world, many of whom are very active on social media.
I can’t say I will agree to this for my other children. Thirteen is not a magical cell phone and social media age. Each child must be evaluated as an individual. I also can’t say that my oldest son will always have this privilege. This is in its probationary phase until he moves out of my home in 5 or more years. I just want to use these years to hopefully form in my children healthy relationships with all the aspect of life that are available to kids like mine, and to teach them to use what they have been blessed with to pour into the lives of those who need a hand from someone with their unique resources and knowledge. Every day I pray that my kids not turn inward or escape their realities or the realities of others whose lives they can reach into. Rather, with a head full of faith, I pray they choose to face all aspects of life head-on with all that God has blessed them with.
Because I didn’t see any examples of rules or contracts online when we were creating ours outside of blogs or articles with general guidelines for teens with phones, I talked with my son about sharing our contracts on my blog for anyone else to use or get ideas from. He thought it would be a great idea, which is just another reason why he’s a great kid who has, thus far, earned my respect for this newest endeavor in our lives.