When I was in high school, there was a brief period of obsession over a small handheld gadget that served as a directory and a calendar. Best of all, it had a matchmaking application so you could see what the future held for you and your crush!
It wasn’t the Palm Pilot (that came many years later) and I can’t recall what the brand was, but I do remember earnestly asking for one from my parents, and getting a flat-out “No.” A few years later, I asked for a beeper. They asked me if I was a doctor and when I answered in the negative, they gave me the same answer.
But times have changed. Once upon a time, only high-powered businessmen and doctors had access to cellular phones and beepers. Nowadays, cellular phones have become as small as our hands and thus become permanently attached to it while beepers have become obsolete.
Last Christmas, I can only imagine the number of requests parents all over the world received for the latest phones and gadgets. Fortunately, my kids are still too young to even think about such items, which saves me the effort of having to come up with a good reason they can’t have one just yet.
I’m not against technology, and I wouldn’t dream of fighting it. I use a phone that allows me to check my e-mail and post photos. Technology has enabled me to send in my articles on time and see my kids even when I am on the other side of the world. But I do worry about its power and influence on the vulnerable minds of the young.
Age is usually a factor when it comes to the right to vote, drive a car, get married, because it is assumed that you need to live and go through numerous experiences over the years before you can become mature enough to make the right decisions and handle the consequences of your actions.
But when it comes to technology, the subject of how old children should be when exposed to it and how much they should be able to access is still under discussion, and usually a personal decision on the part of the parents.
Recently, I came across a blog entry of Janell Hofmann (http://www.janellburleyhofmann.com/gregorys-iphone-contract/). Janell is a mother who had the same concerns for Gregory, her teenage son. She gave him an iPhone for Christmas and with it, a contract with a list of rules which I believe would benefit not just young users, but even mature adults who may sometimes forget how they used to live before they had their smartphones.
Of course, you could always opt to simply not give your kid a smartphone and stick to a regular cell phone, or none at all, but for those of you who decide to go with a smartphone, you might want to check out her list of rules.
The list covers 18 rules, beginning with who really owns the phone (“1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?”) to what Janell will do when Gregory inevitable breaks one of the rules (“18. You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You and I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.”)
I thought the first rule was hilarious but at the same time, a good way to set the tone for how the phone would be used and the kind of attitude expected from Gregory. Knowing that something is simply on loan demands a certain level of responsibility and gratefulness.
As I went on, I truly enjoyed reading her rules. Some of them are common sense and very practical, while some may appear a little rigid but always tempered by her love and concern for him. And at the end of it all, the list made perfect sense.
Technology today is so powerful and broad that allowing a young mind access to it without a clear set of guidelines and boundaries is almost like tossing a set of keys to a child without teaching him how to drive.
While the latter could, and probably would, result in a fatal accident, the Internet and its staying power could also virtually kill one’s reputation and future with one click.
In the past, one still had a little time to think between clicks as you actually had to turn on a family computer at home or develop photos in a store. But smartphones offer convenience and privacy that may sometimes be used in the wrong way. To respond to this, Janell offers the following advice to her son;
“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.”
Use your manners
Not everything in the rules deals with the “extreme” dangers of technology. Some are the same things that parents have been trying to enforce for the last hundred years, such as not ignoring your parents (“3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad.’ Not ever.”) and being responsible for your own things and mistakes (“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.”)
She also reminds him of the right manners when in a restaurant or company of people. (“11. Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.”)
During a conversation, a tita of mine once remarked that she was impressed by how religious the youth have become. Everywhere she looked in restaurants, she would see them with their heads bowed down in fervent prayer over the food they were about to receive. That is, until she realized they were actually editing and posting the photos of their food.
My Tita Gina and her friends came up with an interesting gimmick during meals out to avoid such scenarios. Everyone stacks up their phones face down in the middle of the table, and the first person to check his/her phone pays the bill.
Needless to say, nobody reaches out until the bill is asked for by the group and safely divided among everyone or paid for by the host.
The list goes on to cover several more rules, some of which are similar to the general rules we had when we relied solely on the landline. Back then, it was common sense not to call past a certain hour unless it was truly urgent. But now, with everyone having their own phones by their bed, it’s not unusual to hear it ringing even at midnight.
It may be a long list and I can imagine the eye rolling that it would meet, but if Gregory follows his mom’s rules, he will probably grow up to be a better man for it, one who is perfectly equipped to meet the demands of the future and maximize the potential and advantages of technology without being ruled by it.