Parenting Motivations #13 — Of handphones and trust

agreement blur business close up

It was bound to happen I suppose.

Just when I thought everything was cool and we have the best kid in the world, he goes and breaks the family rule on handphones. Despite having signed a contract for it too.

And in so doing, break a trust.

Talk about a reality check! For wilful defiance and poor decisions by children will litter the journey of nearly every family at one point in time or other. So why should mine be any different?

When it comes to the phone, a duty of care done well builds trust

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Some 10 months ago, I wrote about our family’s first mobile phone contract agreement with our son. Despite the fact we hardly hear any of our peers doing likewise, we went ahead with the plan. The idea was that before he could finally own his first-ever handphone, he had to sign a contract with us.

At the “signing ceremony” we had clearly positioned it to him as a privilege and a rite of passage. As parents, we felt it key to emphasize that this wasn’t an entitlement, just because every other friend he had in school already had a handphone even before last year!

But our now-13-going-on-14 teen needed to understand that owning a phone comes with a duty of care. We wanted to start things right and help him eventually become a responsible user of so powerful a device.

I think we often forget how much a phone can do. No surprise, it being so ubiquitous now in this digital day and age and all. Few of us even think twice about its raw power. Yet, when so much power rests in one’s palm, it must be handled with sufficient care and control.

Or else, as many of us probably don’t realize, it will turn around and control us!

Which is why in our mutually-signed contract with our son, we covered areas like usage duration, security, and inappropriate moments to use it. Do check it out, especially if you’re a parent planning now to get your kid his/her first phone.

“Son, it’s not just about having an extra alarm.”

photo of person holding alarm clock
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His mom found out three nights ago in an unexpected way.

While giving him a hug before bedtime, she noticed a hard lump at the waistline of his PJs. It turned out he had tucked his phone down his pants and covered it with his top to avoid notice.

And he’s been doing that for a month!

When his mom asked why — by which time I had also joined “the party” — he said he needed a second alarm clock on school days as he sometimes turns off the first and falls back to sleep. He didn’t think this decision was a big deal. After all, nearly all his phone apps are disabled by us at bedtime.

As calmly as we could, we asked him why if it’s not a big deal would he hide it from us all this time. To which he replied that we would most probably object. And because he remembers that one of the clauses in the contract specifically mentions that he’s to hand over his phone to his parents at bedtime every night.

While my wife and I adopted a light-touch approach when it came to that clause, we had always assumed he knew that at the very least, he wasn’t to have the phone with him when he goes to sleep.

Without batting an eyelid, we made it clear that this was a clear breach of trust, and not just about having a second alarm.

And, according to the contract, we had to serve him his first warning. Any further breaches in the next fortnight might lead to confiscation of his phone for an unspecified period of time.

But it was clear to us this was a teachable moment for him about the importance of trust in a relationship.

This is also a teachable moment for parents

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Of course, it’s not just about him; it’s also about us as parents. So what’s my takeaway from this incident?

Firstly, a signed contract doesn’t mean this is a done deal and we don’t monitor. For kids will be kids. Most of the time, they aren’t so much out to break trust as they are just making poor decisions. We just have to be present as much as possible when they make those poor decisions and redirect them towards better, more sensible choices.

Secondly, I cannot assume my son won’t try to “get away” with things. Even if he’s been generally a good — and I dare say even great — kid in all other aspects of his life. After all, in many ways, he’s still a kid.

Finally, since his phone is disabled during the night, are we overly legalistic and inflexible over this infringement? It’s not like he can do anything much with his phone in bed right?

Actually, that last point is for me a no-brainer.

You see, it’s ultimately about heading off an over-dependence on devices. Even a disabled phone by the pillow will in the long-run build in him an unconscious need to have the device with him all the time. Like so many teens and adults today.

Which is all the more why we have to wean him off it now before it’s too late!

Come to think of it, the fact I’m often found at bedtime scrolling through one TikTok dance video after another, maybe it’s time I wean myself off too!

Maybe that last point is the real teachable moment.

Sighhh…whoever said that kids are mirrors for their parents sure knew what they were talking about!

2 thoughts on “Parenting Motivations #13 — Of handphones and trust

  1. Parenting sounds super tough, and this is one of the exact situations I’ve pictured myself in. When do I give my child a phone, and how do I restrict it? I myself am fairly independent from the device, but my partner is super reliant on it. I don’t think she’s ever had any downtime for her mind to relax. And I can only imagine it’s worse for children. Anyway, thanks for sharing another honest take of your life yet again!

    1. Hey thanks for dropping by again and for your kind words. Yes it’s a conundrum for sure this thing with devices and kids. Still, as cliche as it sounds, consistency really is key. That and the fact that both parents sing the same tune. Hiccups will still happen (as my tale clearly shows!) but in the long-haul, it’s still the best hedge against wilful overuse and too much screen time. So don’t let this deter any future plans you have to be a parent ok?

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