A mum-blogger from the USA has become the first viral sensation of 2013 after giving her son an i-phone for Christmas – with strings attached. This news article highlights 18 conditions Gregory’s mum placed on her son as a condition of receiving the Christmas gift, including:
- Giving mum the password
- Always answering calls from mum or dad
- Returning the phone to mum or dad at 7.30 each evening
- Recognising that mum actually owns the phone and pays the contract
- Ensuring no ‘private parts’ are photographed, received, or sent.
Yesterday I was interviewed on 3AW Melbourne and the interviewer asked me if it was an ‘invasion of privacy’ that a mum would require this of her son. The interviewer suggested that the measures were ‘draconian.’ The interviewer said that surely when a gift is given, it should be unconditional.
What a load of rubbish!
Here’s what the research tells us
Kids whose parents set limits with their kids, AND who are warm and loving towards them do better in life by pretty much any and every measure. If you’re warm and loving but don’t set limits, there’ll almost certainly be problems. Likewise, kids whose parents are hard-core on setting limits but lack warmth don’t do so well either. The parenting style most strongly associated with positive outcomes for kids is the one where limits and warmth are both present.
Is the letter ok or not?
This mum’s letter is bang on. She’s fun, she’s warm, she’s excited for her son to enjoy his new phone. She’s looking forward to being able to text him and be in touch with him as he increases his independence. So that ticks the ‘warmth’ box.
Next, the letter identifies 18 issues that a parent should be concerned about in terms of a 13 year-olds use of a mobile phone. That’s what limit setting is all about. The letter is clear. It leaves no question as to what expectations are.
Is it going too far?
Parents are responsible for rearing their children, keeping them safe, and teaching them right from wrong. Limits should – no, limits MUST be set. They should be age appropriate. They should change as children get older. But as far as I can see, there is nothing draconian here. Nor is it an invasion of privacy. Parents need to know what is going on in their children’s lives, what is influencing them, and what they are being exposed to. They then need to work with their children to guide them with appropriate limits, just like this mum.
It could still be better
The young man’s response, when quizzed about his mum’s ‘conditional gift’ on national US television, was what we might expect from a typical early-teenaged boy. He didn’t like it, thought it was over the top, and was kind of embarrassed by it. Here’s where I think this mum might have improved what she had done to reduce his resistance to her guidelines:
Greg’s mum might have made this an even better idea by having a discussion with him about the conditions to be agreed upon rather than using the top-down dictatorial approach she went with. By having an ongoing discussion they can understand one another and the reasons why certain conditions need to be agreed to. This increases the likelihood that Greg will willingly agree to and go along with the relevant conditions. In fact, Greg might even develop some of the rules and conditions himself rather than having his mum tell him how it has to be.
With the exception of an initial (and then ongoing) discussions between parent and child, this mum-blogger has nailed what it is to set appropriate limits in a warm and effective way with her children.
Too many parents make the mistake of giving their children unrestricted access to mobile phones, computers and the internet, the x-box, the car (!), and any number of other privileges without any limits or even discussion. Alternatively, some flimsy agreements might be made but parents don’t keep their kids accountable because there is just so much to stay on top of.
A written agreement about the ‘big things’ matters. It makes it concrete. It ensures that there are no misunderstandings. And when we do it in a consultative and democratic way, our kids are generally going to be more than willing to stick by the rules and keep our families happy.