It’s easy to talk intellectually about parenting challenges. It’s another thing completely to find ways to overcome them. Lately, phone etiquette has taken center stage in my house.
I hear it from my friends all the time: “He won’t put his phone down. He’s on it constantly. He completely ignores us.”
We too have had the same intermittent issues in my house. For a while, I ignored them preferring to think that’s what teenagers do these days, it’s just part of our culture. My husband kept wanting to make a plan — guidelines, rules, something to make it better. But I just kept my head in the sand and decided that I had two good girls who worked hard in school and never got in trouble and I didn’t need to put more restrictions on them.
But this week, things came to a head when a family dinner turned ugly. My husband and I found ourselves speaking into a black hole as our girls sat with their noses buried in their phones as we tried to hold a conversation with them. He had had it, and frankly so had I, but I was too exhausted to do anything about it.
And, so, now we have a phone contract in our home signed by everyone in the family.
I won’t bore you with the details, but it basically states that having a smart phone is a privilege and responsibility granted by us and paid for by us. If they don’t follow the rules as we state them, they lose their phones, no argument. The rules are pretty simple — speak to everyone with respect, no phones at the dinner table, no digital communication that is inappropriate (foul language, hurtful or disrespectful texts or posts), and no phones behind the wheel of a car (when they get to that point).
Both girls signed the contract without argument. While it won’t guarantee perfect behavior, it guarantees the consequences for bad behavior.
So far, so good, although it’s only been a few days. One side effect is that it has whetted my 10-year-old’s appetite for contracts.
I found the draft of one by my computer the other night written by her that guarantees that she can ride in the front seat of my car when she turns 11. I had already told her that would not happen until she turns 12. The contract states the penalty for me not allowing her to ride in the front seat is 50 cents a week.
So, in honor of her effort, I signed it and told her I would gladly pay $24 a year to keep her safe. Let’s just hope she doesn’t come up with more contracts that cost me money!
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.