I mentioned a few weeks ago that my husband and I were drafting some new screen rules for our family. We have tweaked here and there, let it sit, shared it with a few friends. Then, there was a big, fruitful chat with the kids. Here's a look inside our attempt to focus on building meaningful relationships and to spend more time reading things of substance.
1. Be intentional. Before you sit in front of a screen—iPhone, iPod, computer, or television, or anything else yet to be invented –ask yourself if this is really the best way to use your time.
2. All screens are to be turned off at 9:30 and plugged in in my room. All of them. Televisions obviously won’t be plugged in my room, but they will be off. We will make exceptions for big games, recognizing that there are lots of big games throughout the year. However, not every game is a big game and I’ve been around this horn before, so don’t try to persuade me otherwise.
3. You may have your screens back in the morning until 9:00 AM. That means if you wake up early, you can catch up on your screen worlds before school and chores. If you don’t get up and get going, you’re out of luck. At 9:00, the only screen in front of you will be tuned to educational pursuits. Your iPhones and iPods are never necessary for those endeavors.
4. You may have your iPhones and iPods and cell phones again in the afternoon. Conditions for retrieving them: all school assignments finished. Chores for the day finished. The TV will not be turned on after dinner unless the dinner kitchen jobs are finished. I recognize that this is a very small window of evening television viewing. Read a book. I’m not kidding.
5. Social media outlets: No public social media until one is 13. (Nicholas is grandfathered into Instagram for the next 6 months). You may join Instagram with my permission at 13. The little girls can have a private, non-searchable Instagram account for sharing with family members only.
6. Facebook can be discussed at 16. So can Twitter. So can whatever new thing comes along. No promises. No guarantees. You need to earn your presence there by behaving responsibly elsewhere.
7. New social media outlets require expressed permission from Mom before you register. This includes Snapchat, ask, etc. If that horse is out of the barn already, just watch me lead it back in.
8. Mom will know the password for all social media accounts. This is for your protection. When you do something stupid (and you will) I want to be able to do damage control immediately. I’m busy. It’s highly unlikely I’m going to read all your messages and such. On the other hand, you never know when I’ll be standing in a long line and want something to do. You just never know.
9. The phones belong to your parents. We pay for the service that makes them work. If you lose or break them, you replace them. If you abuse the rules, you don’t use them.
10. If that phone rings and it’s one of your parents, you answer immediately. If we can’t reach you on your phone, then when we finally do reach you, we will take the phone.
11. Cell phones and iPods used for texting will be limited to texts to mom or dad from soccer or dance until you are 13 (or older). [An exception will be allowed so that the little girls can text siblings who have moved away.]
12. Use technology responsibly. With every keystroke, you are creating your own permanent record. Think carefully about this. We all say or do stupid things online. And we all grow and look back at some of what we’ve written and cringe. But if you follow some basic principles, you will minimize the cringe factor:
::Do not use this technology to deceive anyone. Ever. Always, always be truthful online. Don’t airbrush yourself (figuratively or literally.) If you don’t like the person you are, change yourself for real; don’t invent a new you online.
::Do not engage in conversations that hurt other people. Ever. Whether in person or online, there is no reason to hurt someone else. Ever. Did I mention never to engage in hurtful conversations?
::Don’t argue with someone via text message or IM or any electronic messaging. If someone is important enough in your life to spend time arguing, do it in person, where you can read all the other cues of communication. At the very least, call.
::Don’t say anything online or via text that you wouldn’t want someone’s parents to read or that you wouldn’t want a college admissions officer to read. Both those scenarios are likely to happen. You can be a kid, just be sure to be a good kid, all the time.
::If you are a girl, sit on your fingers a few days every month. You think it needs to be said, but really it doesn’t and you’ll wish you hadn’t said it when the hormone shower is over. Just don’t go there. Truly. If you really need to vent, do it in a safe place, out loud, with a trusted friend, in person. Don’t commit it to writing. I’ll be your trusted friend whenever you need it. Just don’t have a PMS meltdown online. Trust me on this one. You’ll thank yourself (and me) later.
::If you are in a social situation, surrounded by people or even just one person, put your phone away! Away. Learn to people watch, to read the room, to look someone in the eye and convey genuine interest. Put it away or I will take it away. And, if you see me messing up on this one, please remind me. You all are people. You are the most important people in my life. Remind me to be hands-free. You deserve nothing less.
::No porn. Not even “soft” porn. And no sending or receiving pictures that are not fully clothed. No exceptions. Ever. ‘Though your bathing suits are clothing, really think twice before posting too many of those pictures.
::Don’t post about your awesome good time with the intent of making someone who wasn’t there feel left out. Be sensitive and avoid tagging and name-dropping when it makes you exclusive. Virtual cliques can be even more damaging than in-real-life ones. It’s okay to have fun with your friends without recording it all publicly. Don’t engage in a “who has how many ‘likes’” or “who is having the best time with the coolest people” competition. It’s so not worth it. Friendship isn’t quantifiable by clicks. It never has been. It never will be.
::And speaking of “likes:” Sweetheart, your worth is not the sum total of the number of likes your selfie got or the number of friends or followers you have. You are so much more than that! No image, no incredibly clever status update, no blog post will ever, ever come close to capturing the wonder of you. If you ever doubt your value, click the computer closed, put your phone in our pocket, and come look me in the eye. I’ll show you how much you are worth.
:: When you are driving, you may plug your phone into the outlet in the back of the van. It will be there if you need it, when you pull over and are truly stopped. Being stopped at a stoplight doesn’t count as being stopped.
::The camera on your iPhone or iPod is a wonderful tool. Record your memories with a meaningful picture or two, but don’t spend your days looking at all of life through the lens of your device. The world is bigger than that and more beautiful than what fits in the frame. Put it away. Take snapshots in your mind.
:: Don’t share too much. A little mystery is a good thing.
::Have an open mind. One of the beautiful things about the Internet is the opportunity it affords for getting to know people you might otherwise not. You can listen on the Internet, learn another person’s point of view, and not engage in an argument. Just because someone is “wrong” on the Internet, doesn’t mean you have to spend hours of time (or even just a few minutes) correcting him. More often than not, that’s wasted time that would have been better spent tucking their point of view into the files of your mind so that you might pray to understand more than to be understood.
:: Remember that when you are publishing anything online, you not only represent yourself, you represent our family. Even more, you represent our faith.
The Internet is evolving. These rules will change. Honestly, I wish I’d had these rules as each new entity presented itself. It would have saved me from a lot of grief. Technology has afforded us so many new opportunities to forge bonds and further relationships, to grow in knowledge and even in understanding. Let’s pray together to have the wisdom to keep up with technology.