Would You Ask Your Child to Sign a Contract?

One of the big parenting stories that garnered a great deal of interest over the holidays was this blog post from Janell Burley Hoffman that shared with the world the contract that Hoffman asked her 13 year old son to sign when she presented him with an iPhone for Christmas. Acknowledging both the expense and the responsibility that comes along with such a gift, Hoffman wrote:

“Dear Gregory

Merry Christmas!  You are now the proud owner of an iPhone.  Hot Damn!  You are a good & responsible 13 year old boy and you deserve this gift.  But with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations.  Please read through the following contract.  I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it.  Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone ownership.”

What followed was a list of 18 rules to live by that included:

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.  Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money.  It will happen, you should be prepared.

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

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.

As well as some beautiful advice:

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.

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. 

And boy, did Hoffman catch a lot of flak for sharing this contract with the world. People were aghast that she could give a gift to her son accompanied by terms and conditions. People criticized her for being an overly controlling Mom who as going to turn her son into a pariah.

But I have to admit. I am squarely on her side.

Because I asked my kids to sign a contract several years ago when they purchased their first personal electronic device- a Nintendo DS. The contract I created outlined how the device was being paid for (because at the time some of my kids needed to borrow from the bank of Mom in order to make their purchase), and the conditions under which they could use it, and lose it.

I felt it was a very grown up way to teach my kids about what seemed like a very grown up purchase, an expensive electronic gaming device. For starters, we made the decision that this type of purchase would not be something that we ever just gave our kids as a gift outright, it would be something that we would ask them to save their birthday, holiday, and occasional chore-earning money to buy. We wanted our kids to understand that the “toys” like this are expensive and should be treated with care- and we felt that asking them to buy personal electronic gadgets with “their own money” would be a powerful lesson for them.

We also outlined terms of usage (that they could only play with their DS after homework and chores were complete), and the terms under which they could lose the privilege of ownership (temporarily of course, by not following our house rules). Our kids willingly signed these contracts (I mean who wouldn’t? They were finally getting the toy of “their dreams”!), and I don’t think there was ever a time when I had to pull out the contract to enforce the details. It really just served to lay out our ground rules and expectations as our kids entered their own electronic age.

It’s now been 3 years since my kids signed their DS contracts, and my older kids now own quite a few more electronic devices…. iTouch, iPad, iPhone, Nano, PSP, Kindles… the list feels endless as I type this. In every single case, my kids have still had to save the money to purchase their own device. Sometimes it took more than a year- but they learned the importance of not wasting money and saving it for something they really wanted. And I have never again asked them to sign a contract…. we’ve just had a discussion of our expectations before each purchase was made.

I have no problem with the way that this Mom presented her rules and expectations for her son- even in contract form. But how about you? What do you think?

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  1. says

    Maybe… it depends on the child, I think.

    My dad made one up for me when I was in middle school. Had to sign it and keep to it or there would be trouble. I know it was something with my grades and my attitude. And, I must have kept to it ok for the most part since I dont remember anything too terrible. LOL I do know that I wasnt sure he was serious and I got a C in something. He took my CD player, I think. Those were dark days… Ha! But it helped me keep my grades up.

    Another time, in high school, he told me if my grades/attitude weren’t good by the end of the year, I couldn’t take drivers ed. And, that happened! Boo! Worst summer ever. And oon top of that he made me run with him every morning in the summer at 530 AM! EW!! Looking back, I miss those mornings with him. He really was trying to help me see what I was doing wrong and that I really do have the capability to do anything. He is awesome.
    Heather recently posted..Menu Plan

    • says

      So Heather-
      Are you saying that upon reflection of your own childhood… that contracts, rules, and consequences were a good thing? (I think you are!) And does that shape the way that you parent?

      • says

        Yes! I definitely am for them (as a parent anyway, lol) ! For a few reasons:
        1. Kids WANT to be treated like they are “big kids” / little adults / etc. THey love it when they have a feeling of responsibility. And, ok, while, yes…I was the oldest of 6 kids (5 younger brothers!!) I had a lot of responsibility. But I didn’t see, at the time, what my life was being shaped for, you know? And, I was the typical middle school girl – defiant, hormonal, etc…a mess looking back! But, I was still treated like “daddy’s little girl” until something clicked with hm and realized that’s not gonna work for this age (At least that it was I think happened)

        2. Promises made by kids “I’ll do better next time” and promises made by parents “You can have X if you successfully do X” are known to everyone and are KEPT. IF everyone follows through on what they have said they are going to do, everyone is happy.

        My boys are 3.5 and 1.5. Andy (the 3 yr old) already started his own “contract” but NOT by me. He saw an episode of Franklin. Franklin wanted a toy and his parents said if he does X then at the end of the month he can get the toy. Well, we now have a sticker sheet (just like Franklin’s) and it is getting filled up. He has to keep a good behavior and do things when we ask him (like go to bed without fussing / pick up the toys / etc). He has done great!

        So yes! It DOES work and it is a good thing (though as a kid I HATED it, of course…until I saw the end result….15 years later…)
        Heather recently posted..Andy’s New Room

  2. Carol in Atlanta says

    Perhaps a few things were over the top such as 7:30 is early to turn over a phone for teenagers. Adults who thought the mom was over-controlling are clearly unaware of serious issues like cyber-bullying, teens not getting enough sleep because not only are their lives busy with school & extra-curriculars but also with texting in the wee hours of the night, sexting (which truly can ruin a teen’s life). Plus shouldn’t every parent want to expand their child’s horizons (i.e. the enouragement to explore more types of music than simply going along with the crowd).

    • says

      Yes- half the time my pre-teen isn’t even home from soccer practice at 7:30, or if he is, he’s been doing homework. 7:30-8:30 are really his time to engage online… and I am okay with that.

  3. says

    Absolutely, I would do the contract and have for a phone we got for our 16 year old this fall through Kajeet. We don’t have a contract for the younger kids for the DS though I think that’s a great idea, too. I am constantly yanking their time for not following the rules, however the rules are verbal. If they’re in writing and posted, then my kids have something to refer to.

    I see it as my job to create opportunities for my children to learn how to be responsible. My ds16 is signing contracts in school for some of his classes. Why not at home? He’ll be doing it when he goes out in the world.

    • says

      I agree with you… it IS our job to create opportunities for our kids to learn. And I do think that the contract I asked my kids to sign, and the one that Janell Hoffman asked her son to sign provided a great lesson in responsibility.

  4. says

    I agree, I think it’s actually easier for the kid to see exactly what they are getting, not getting, agreeing too, if its in writing. I know my girls will come back and say ‘but moooom’…and I hope to have the foresight to have a contract I can refer to and say ‘this is what you agreed to’. I think it helps the relationship as well, so that the child is responsible for his actions and choices and mom isn’t blamed automatically for being mean. I love it.
    Melissa recently posted..Scandal and Ambition

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