An iPhone Contract for My Second Son, With Love

This phone is a privilege, not a right -- need and want are very different things. I gave it and I can take it away. It really is that simple.
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Dear Brendan,

Merry Christmas! You are the proud new owner of an iPhone. Holy! Holy! It's your turn already -- for a phone, for a contract, for the great teachings of balance, the value of going slow in the fastest of times. We arrived here together so quickly that if I wasn't careful, I might not notice how suddenly you stand before me almost eye to eye, how your face has thinned and your spirit has grown certain. I might forever think of you as the little brother -- adorable and not quite ready -- needing shelter instead of wings. So here it is: my offering of trust, an acknowledgment of the good, kind, smart young man you are becoming and access to one of the greatest tools on Earth. What will you make of it? How will you use the connection to enhance your life -- to make it easier, to make it better for others, to learn, to create, to explore and expand? I'm excited to find out.

I love you deeply and truly. There's not a device in the world that can change what we've got going.

Let's do this.

1. This phone is a privilege, not a right -- need and want are very different things. I gave it and I can take it away. It really is that simple.

2. Expect to show me and tell me and make it part of our world. Your digital life will not exist in isolation.

3. You've got to do your part. Take care of it. Breaks, cracks, water, sand and disappearances are all at your expense. Chores, family contributions and a general level of cooperation are required to support the ongoing cost as well. No surprises here.

4. You want to download it? Get permission. You want to buy it? Pay up.

5. 8:00 p.m. shutdown on weeknights and 10:00 p.m. on weekends. You need to recharge, too. *It doesn't go to sleepovers unless otherwise discussed.

6. It stays home from school unless an alternate plan is predetermined. Talk to your friends in the hall and at lunch IRL. Don't let a screen come between you and the magical madness of middle school.

7. What you text, post and share is YOU. Make sure your online and offline personalities match. The screen does not excuse mean. You do it, you've got to own it.

8. No taking videos or pics of unsuspecting people. No vids or pics in the name of humor at the expense of another human. Siblings included. Parents too. Always get permission to post.

9. I did not increase my monthly expenses for you to have unlimited access to sex, violence and the endless rabbit hole of searching and scrolling. Go on: Get up. Go out. Make good use of your time. It's a life skill.

10. Express yourself and embrace the access to information. Find causes and creations and communities that bring you closer to all the things you love, and let curiosity lead you to all of the interests that are yet to be.

11. Don't be afraid to be silent. To not comment. To not respond. To leave a conversation. To block. To delete. To unfollow. Sometimes choosing not to participate takes the most courage of all. Be selective in the fires you fuel.

12. You always have a choice in how you use this iPhone. That's part of the gift, the freedom to decide how the technology will work best for you. Sneaking, lying, cheating and faking won't serve you, and I'd love to protect you from finding that out for yourself. But since I can't, know this: how you show up online matters and influences and impacts. Use that power wisely.

13. Don't stop visiting your grandparents or playing pick-up games in the yard with the neighborhood kids or lingering over the dinner table with us or meeting your friends for pizza without a plan. These are the things that make a childhood -- that make a life -- and they should never have to compete with your phone.

14. Pause long enough to look up from your phone and into the eyeballs of others to say "please" and "thank you" whenever possible.

15. The world has consequences beyond the rules of our own family. That's the reality for lots of things. Be responsible. Be accountable. Be resilient. Be forgiving to yourself and others. But always get after it with a true heart and the best intentions, and the world will consistently work in your favor.

16. You won't always get it right. You will stumble and lose your way. I get it. Dad gets it. We don't have to like it. But we can handle it. You are surrounded and loved and held up by the most beautifully imperfect people. On the Internet and in life: You are never alone. We've got you.

Oh, Brendan. Let this phone be a part of your life in a way that is good and fun and useful. Take your time. Take deep breaths. Imagine yourself in the shoes of others as often as you can. Know that you are full and whole and complete regardless of likes and followers -- you are already the definition of quality. Be healthy and active and live fully, both on and away from the screens. Determine when you need to stand up for what's right, walk away from what's wrong, or ask for help when you're unsure. And if the only thing you decide to do is be yourself, then life online just got a whole lot better.



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