Smart Phone Rules for a Teenager

Commentary by Dan Sarell:
If you have not already seen and been inspired by this story, I’d like to share it with you.

A 13 year-old boy in Massachusetts just got an iPhone for Christmas. His mother cleverly articulated “18 rules” in the form of a contract. I’m still not sure why one rule is enumerated as both “8” and “9,” but the general idea is nothing short of inspirational. While the rules may be perhaps “too strict” for many people’s taste, even those of us inclined to agree with the spirit of the rules, Mrs. Hofmann instilled in them a sense of humanity and realism that is refreshing, understanding that these guidelines reflect values towards which both mother and son are to aspire, if not always achieve with perfection.

I share the rules in the hopes that they will spark conversation in households, schools and churches across southern Colorado and beyond. The pervasiveness of electronic media in our lives is not going to go away, and the vast majority of us only hope that it will become more accessible, bridging the “digital divide” between rich and poor, and that the use of new media will only serve to help us grow in our humanity.

The fear, of course, is that we will be led down the kind of path that was portrayed in the movie, Wall-E, where humanity had to abandon Earth, which had become a polluted junk heap. The exiled human race, then, lived generations in outer space and evolved into floating blobs of atomized automation, with robots supplying their every basic need and gratification.

The hope, then, is that any electronic device can be harnessed as tools, instruments for bringing people together, with greater access to information for the purpose of increasing understanding towards making wiser, more prudent life decisions. Clearly, most of us, especially those us over a “certain age,” are feeling that we are experiencing an out-of-control drift, where we see people’s lives being taken over by “info-tainment,” often the most base, trivial, useless information, that either leads down a path towards simply more consumption, more media, and towards what end? The “observers” of this drift, who are very often not blameless at all, are what my colleague refers (to himself) as “digital immigrants,” who are observing those below a “certain age,” who are termed “digital natives.”

As one who is generationally in the middle, a Gen Xer closing in on forty, I remember three channels on broadcast TV, with rabbit-ears, the novelty of cable television and the novelty of primeval personal computers. The first time I heard the word “Internet” was among some astrophysics grad students in Boulder, CO, in 1992. I have a vantage point that sees both the concern and the opportunities surrounding the rise of technology.

Backlashes against technology and increasingly smaller, more powerful and more pervasive devices will be numerous but weak at best, so the conversation I try to facilitate is one of “smart use” of “smart technology.” In the end, technology is a TOOL to be used by humans to help humans be better humans.

Here are the “rules” Mrs. Hofmann laid out for her son Greg …

“Greg Hofmann is a kid who just got an iPhone from his parents. His mom, Janell Hofmann, wrote these [slightly edited] rules for its use:

1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren't I the greatest?

2. I will always know the password.

3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads "Mom" or "Dad". Not ever.

4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30pm every school night & every weekend night at 9:00pm. It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30am. If you would not make a call to someone's land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.

5. It does not go to school with you. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It's a life skill.

6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.

7. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first or stay the hell out of the crossfire.

8-9. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.

10. No porn.

11. Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.

12. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else's private parts. Don't laugh. Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence. It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life. It is always a bad idea. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear -- including a bad reputation.

13. 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.”

14. 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.

15. Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.

16. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.

17. 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.

18. 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

Sources: This story and the “rules” have now been widely reported and circulated in the media, and they have gone “viral” on social media. The original source of the story is unknown to me.

Janell Burley Hofmann’s blog and the original “iPhone contract” can be found at

Photo Source: Screenshot from ABC News.

See also the following links for stories related to the Hofmann Rules: