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Mom's code of conduct for son's smartphone use goes viral

Janell Burley Hofmann honored her 13-year-old son's “maturity and growth” at Christmas with his first iPhone, but it had strings attached — in the form of a code of conduct.
By LEANNE ITALIE Published: January 15, 2013

Assessing the need

There's little data broken down by age on the number of Internet users whose lives are negatively impacted by smartphones, tablets, laptops and other technology, Greenfield said. In the general population, studies range from 1 percent to 10 percent of users whose digital habits interfere with their lives. Greenfield estimates the reality is somewhere between 2 and 6 percent.

In a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 81 percent of parents with online teens said they are concerned about how much information advertisers can learn about their kids' behavior, and 72 percent said they're concerned about how their children interact online with people they don't know.

Nearly 70 percent said they're concerned about how their children manage their reputations online, and 57 percent of kids ages 12 and 13 said they're very concerned about it.

The report said parents are being proactive, not just relying on parental-control tools such as browser filters. The number joining their kids on social media is growing.

Hofmann's contract is her own attempt at education. “Don't take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.”

She gets downright inspirational near the end: “Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO — fear of missing out.”

She also urges her boy to, “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 her final word: “You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You & I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.”

Aisha Sultan in St. Louis studied parenting in the digital age as a Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. As parents, she said, “We've sort of hit a tipping point. The conversation has shifted from ‘Wow, isn't all this technology cool?' to ‘Wow, how do we control it?' We can't eliminate it completely.”

Before the conversation with their kids begins, Greenfield said, parents have to deal with their own digital obsessions.

“Parents have to have limits, too,” he said. “We have to be brutally honest with ourselves on our own use and abuse.”