How to Manage Media in Families

Excerpt from this article:

Parents have a love-hate relationship with firsts… But few firsts generate more ambivalence than the first cellphone.

On one hand, many parents welcome this milestone. Now they can keep track of their children when they’re out and notify the children if they’re running late. Also, parents gain leverage. One mother told me, “I’ve found the phone has given me newfound power as a parent, because I can take it away!”

On the other hand, children tend to disappear through the looking glass when they get their first phone. They become vulnerable to the dark side of the Internet, and once comfortable routines get upended. “We used to be a family before they got phones,” one father complained. “Now we’re never together.”

…How should parents handle this transition? Some discuss freedom and responsibility, hand over the device, then respond as situations arise. But others try to do more, laying down a set of rules.

…The Internet is bursting with dozens of multi-plank contracts for parents to execute with their children. As the father of tweens, I like this idea, but I’m also realistic enough to know that a three-page contract will be swiftly ignored and even it can’t keep up with the last parent-avoiding app. What I craved was a handful of overarching rules that could guide our interactions.

See also this related article, Rules for Teen and Tween Cellphone Use: Unspoken, or Printed and Signed?

The “broad overarching rules” that many families use to guide cellphone use described in Bruce’s article are useful (and the specific examples he found make great conversation starters). We’ve had many, many talks about the public nature of every exchange, and about the way you might trust your friend not to forward a text or email or screenshot a Snapchat, but can you really trust his older sister if she happens to pick up his phone? Anyone dragged into the public pillory by an unexpected video, or a tweet or text, becomes fodder for what could be described as our family’s personal ongoing crash course in the perils of modern living.

We probably haven’t spent enough time on the “grammar of texting” in that particular version of homeschooling. The advice the GeekDad Ken Diamond told Bruce that offered his teenage sons is advice I’ll share, too: Read it twice before you press “send,” and add some smiley faces.