To address her concerns, she outlined boundaries and expectations in a contract for her son to sign upon receiving his first cell phone. When Hofmann's editor at The Huffington Post posted the contract, now known as iRules, it resonated on a massive scale and went viral, resulting in a tsunami of media coverage and requests. It quickly became apparent that people across the country were hungry for more.
In iRules, Hofmann provides families with the tools they need to find a balance between technology and human interaction through a philosophy she calls Slow Tech Parenting. In the book, she educates parents about the online culture tweens and teens enter the minute they go online, exploring issues like cyberbullying, friend fail, and sexting, as well as helping parents create their own iRules contracts to fit their families' needs. As funny and readable as it is prescriptive, iRules will help parents figure out when to unplug and how to stay in sync with the changing world of technology, while teaching their children self-respect, integrity, and responsibility.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Awareness and Action
iRule: Talk! And Talk Some More!
My iRule: It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren't I the greatest?
When we became parents, we did not know this would be our fate. We did not know that the technology would burst into our lives with such intensity and appeal. We did not know that every one of us--including our children—would be engaged in a different and equally powerful way. Well, at least I didn't know. When I first became a mother in 1999, I was still finishing my bachelor's degree. We had a desktop computer and I used it for one sole purpose—word processing. I was a picture of focus as I finished papers and projects during newborn naps and in the wee hours of the night. Of course I had e-mail too. But it seemed secondary to calling someone on the phone or meeting for coffee and doughnuts. I remember when Gregory was about eighteen months old, we had cable Internet installed in the tiny corner room of our apartment. This was living. It was so fast. I could research and shop and listen and browse without being at a computer lab or using dial-up or waiting. I was in awe of the potential this one computer had and all the ways I could access the world—in an instant—from my humble home.
Just as Gregory's language skills started to develop, so did his interest in the computer. He'd wake up in the morning all warm and sleepy, and as I picked that sturdy baby body up into my arms, he'd say, "Elmo! 'Puter!" How sweet. I thought he was so smart. I mean, I'd never met a computer-loving baby. It was endearing, really. We would have breakfast and then sit down together at the "'puter" and play. He would be on my lap asking for "Sesame-dot-com" or "Bob the Builder." At first he would point and I would click and we'd play together, snuggled up and squealing over our favorite characters. But over time, he'd push my hand right out of the way and navigate the mouse himself. He wanted to sit alone: "No, Mom, I do it." He became obsessed with the games and stories and songs all at his fingertips, animated and exciting. The fun was predictable enough to delight, but a two-year-old could control or alter just enough of the action to make it worth coming back for more. He'd see computers in the homes of his grandparents and friends and beg for a turn. We had to start setting timers, distracting him, using tools to redirect his attention, and shutting down the computer completely for hours so use was nonnegotiable. I'm laughing now, as I dig through my memory for our tech beginnings, thinking that we have been creating and negotiating iRules for most of Greg's life.
But even then, though I saw how drawn to and immersed in the computer he was, I don't think I fully understood what was unfolding. Even if I had been told that someday very soon, Gregory could have that computer inside a small cell phone, with an added camera and various easy communication tools, and bring it anywhere he wanted in his back pocket, I would have never believed you. No person will ever need that, nevermind a child, I would have thought. But here we are. We are the generation of parents who are the bridge between "before" and "after" the technology. We lived our own childhoods without and we are raising the first generation with. We have the benefit of insight and wisdom gleaned from our tech-free past. But we have no one ahead of us leading the way to our tech future. So what can we do right now? How can we parent the technology in the present with the knowledge, tools, and instincts we have in this very moment in time?
I believe dialogue to be the most critical piece in raising children. Through parent-and-child conversation, we can solve, discuss, prevent, laugh, connect, disagree, understand, share, and grow. We need to start talking. We need to ask questions. We need to share stories. We need to talk to our partners and extended family members. We need to start conversations in the community with educators, pediatricians, neighbors. We need to assess our family's wants, needs, goals, and values in general and then apply them to the technology—even if our results look very different from someone else's. Because when we talk to our children, to our families, and within our communities, we do not feel alone. We share our perspectives and gather strength from both shared and opposing viewpoints. We start to feel secure in our views and we become stronger parents because of it.
When we feel overwhelmed as parents, we need to hold ourselves up. And high! We cannot back down from the knowledge that we are the parents. We are the authority. Not controlling, overbearing, no-freedom-to-make-a-mistake parents, but our children's models and lifelong guides. We can lovingly walk the path with them while enforcing boundaries and limits. Families must be proud of their choices and get in touch with their truth about raising a family. But parenting is part natural and part learned. We need to take our parenting seriously and to regard it as one of the greatest responsibilities we will ever have, which means making a commitment to trust our core parental instincts and seek out resources and services available to help us grow.
iRules may look different for each of us. For example, parents that don't pick their kids up from school until 7:00 p.m. may allow their children later tech hours than I do, because Greg gets home most days at 2:45. We all have different daily routines and needs, but we can use the same strategies to build our own sets of boundaries in our own homes. Before we begin with our first step, a Tech Talk, we must have specific conversations and assess a series of our own feelings and beliefs.
Before Your Tech Talk
You must come together! A key component of making your iRules a success is to have complete accord with your spouse, partner, or anyone parenting with you. This may mean scheduling discussions without the children present, ironing out varied views or opinions to maintain a united front, and allowing all of those involved in raising your children to contribute to the creation of your family iRules. This is crucial and cannot be avoided. Teamwork makes the dream work!
Although I composed our family iRules, Adam and I had been having discussions about our tech beliefs for years. He is a tech lover in some ways—he appreciates devices' functionality, purposes, streamlining--while I'm a tech lover in others—I value and use devices socially, for picture taking, texting, sharing. Both sets of interests impacted our iRules contract. As we watched the technology evolve and make its way to younger and younger children, we talked. We talked about articles we'd read and conversations we'd had with other people. Before I showed Greg our iRules contract, Adam looked at it, made changes and additions to make sure that we could both agree to parent it consistently.
As you begin these discussions about technology, ask yourself, how does the technology feel? Assess your own feelings and values about specific technologies. Do you feel confident in knowing how the technology works or are you intimidated? How do you feel when your children use that technology? When your daughter is staring down at the smartphone screen for hours, do you want to scream? If you see your son playing violent video games, do you cringe? When your toddler collapses on the floor crying for the iPad, do you feel helpless? Note these feelings so you can address specific boundaries head-on while being aware of your emotional temperature in each instance.
I have to admit that I can be tense around technology. I studied mass media in college, and the impacts that papers, projects, discussions, lectures, and my thesis research had have never left me. I saw how media use influences perception and behavior—especially media used without mindfulness—and how easily our views and opinions can be altered by the images and messages we see and process. I never wanted my sons or daughters to get their information or beliefs about gender roles from the media. I wanted to be the one to promote and encourage their personal reflections on who they are and who they want to be. So that remains a priority for me. You will find that your personal history and experiences will influence your tolerance for tech. As we start to learn more about ourselves and our parenting styles, we become much clearer on the deliberate direction we want to take with our children.
Certain types of television shows and video games make me squirm. I wish the kids would watch Arthur and play Madden forever because of their innocence. It's important to me that my children build positive relationships, and it's hard to see how thousands of young teens spending all day on social networking sites promotes that. But the more I dug into and prepared my own set of iRules and the values underlying that agreement, the more easily I could see that my influences were very present. My standards were clear, so I could let go and allow Greg to enjoy social networking within the boundaries of my parenting philosophies.
We need to understand our parenting motivations. We need to know why we are inclined to react or relate, freak out or turn a blind eye. Knowing yourself will help you parent with the clearest convictions. When a parent is certain about who they are, what they stand for, and what they need and want for their children, the boundaries and styles come together with ease. Don't be afraid to dig below the surface, to get to know yourself. Does the technology in your home make you scared? What are you afraid of? Make a list! Online predators? Tech addiction? Lack of exercise? Loss of imagination? Once we name our biggest fears, we can start to devise specific rules and tools to help us deal with them so they don't become realities. When Greg got the iPhone, I was scared that he would become addicted to it, bring or sneak it everywhere. I already had a full and busy parenting life bubbling over with endless challenges that called on me to apply all of my greatest skills and tools every day to negotiate. I didn't want the iPhone to bring us past a breaking point. I wanted to be able to parent it with my full attention. And I knew that my greatest fear was that I would lose Greg to the iPhone—that this device would become his world and everything else would become less than it. So I made several iRules to help us both make sure that didn't happen without consequences.
And then we need to see each child as an individual. I say this like it's effortless. But I know it is not. I almost always lump my kids together by gender (and age): "The girls can't watch that show, please change it." Or "The boys are tired tonight, so they need to head up to bed early." The more children you have, the harder it can be to decipher and tend to individual needs. But with technology, I think it's important to create a kid profile. Think about each child. List their ages, interests, tendencies, personality traits, struggles, etc. This will help you brainstorm what needs to be in your iRules. Does your child like the outdoors or spend more time indoors? Is your child naturally sociable or shy? Is homework a challenge? Is the calendar filled with activities? Here is a profile I created for Brendan when we made our iRules for his tech use.
Brendan: Age eleven. Loves basketball and soccer, plays constant neighborhood pickup games with a large group of friends. Breezes through homework without help, self-directed. Needs ten hours of sleep but constantly pushes for a later bedtime, as well as extra snacks and different dinners, and fusses for more technology time. Wants to have the same tech limits as Greg, who's three grades older.
What I learned: I'll need to be firm and leave no room for negotiation on tech use because he tends to push for more of everything. I do worry that he'll try to push the boundaries on games deemed inappropriate (especially when he's not at home). I'm not worried that he won't go outside, get exercise, or socialize. I'm not worried about him as a student. He's busy and active, so he needs to eat well and get to bed early. For Brendan, no screens (except family TV or computer homework) during the week works best.
These two small paragraphs are a great foundation for building iRules for Brendan. I can take information I have gathered about myself and the person/people with whom I am raising my family, our parenting philosophies, and my child's profile to begin creating working iRules. We can all set rules and consequences as parents. It's Parenting 101: "Your curfew is 9:00. If you come home at 9:01, you are grounded for a week." There are situations that call for this type of black-and-white, right-and-wrong parenting method. But technology can be a little trickier, because parts can be gray. We need to focus on creating a working set of boundaries, ones that breed success and limit struggle. This is why iRules work so well-- they are adaptable to every child, family, situation, and scenario. You are setting your child up to have success with technology while being guided by the most trusted people in their lives--their parents. An iRules contract is a unique and powerful parenting tool that fosters success for both the individual and the entire family system.
Table of Contents
A Note to the Reader viii
The Contract x
Part 1 Respect
Chapter 1 Awareness and Action 3
iRule: Talk! And Talk Some More!
iRule: Sleep First
Chapter 2 The Golden Rules 47
iRule: Do unto Others
Part 2 Responsibility
Chapter 3 Manners Matter 73
Chapter 4 Work! 97
iRule: Learn to Earn!
Chapter 5 Sex and Technology 127
iRule: Preach Safe Text!
iRule: Practice Safe Text
Part 3 Live Fully
Chapter 6 Be Present 155
iRule: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
Chapter 7 Technology Is Fun 197
iRule: Embrace and Enjoy
iRule: Put Down the Controller
Chapter 8 Eyes Up and Heart Open 219
iRule: Live and Love
iRule: Mess Up! Make Mistakes!
It's Okay to Be Human!
The Workbook 233
Popular Social Networking Sites for Tweens and Teens 2013/2014 245
Popular Abbreviations for Online Communication 246