One Family’s Tech Story: An Interview with Janell Burley Hofmann, Creator of the iPhone Contract and Author of iRules

Janell Burley Hofmann is the creator of the iPhone Contract that went global in 2012. She has been featured on The Huffington Post, USA Today, Fox News, Good Morning America, and many more. She is the author of iRules: What Every Tech Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming & Growing Up (Rodal, 2014). Janell is an international speaker and consultant on digital health, well-being, leadership, and empowerment. Her goal is to help families have positive, safe, and healthy experiences with technology – as it is such an integral and constant part of modern life.

 

What is your background and experience with technology that gave you the idea to create a contract for your kids?

My academic background is in Communications and Media, as well as graduate work in Dialogue and Critical and Creative Thinking. During the time that I wrote the contract I was working in community programming – particularly youth and families. I was also doing advocacy work and parenting programming. I saw very clearly and heard directly how technology, in particular, portable technology, was becoming a primary source of stress and frustration for families. When my oldest son was 13 (now 17,) I wanted to be mindful and intentional with how we managed his first smartphone. The idea of the contract seemed proactive instead of reactive, but more than that I wanted it to reflect the other areas of family life – the person I wanted him to become.

How many contracts have you written and about which types of technology?

At this time I have written Gregory’s iPhone Contract, Brendan’s iPhone Contract, Ella’s iPhone Poem, Instagram iRules for Beginners and an iPod Contract. I also have a tool for families to create their own (FREE) iRules contract at www.iRules.co.

Your first iContract was a hit with parents globally, tell us a little bit more about that experience. How did it catch on?

I few days after I wrote Gregory’s iPhone Contract in 2012, I decided to share it online both on my own blog and my blog on The Huffington Post. Because it was just a few days after the holidays, I think it was relevant and a part of a larger, global conversation. The timing was right, and families were thinking about tech in a more permanent way and needing strategies and solutions. I think the public saw contracting as a great option for healthy tech use.  

There are so many articles out there about the dangers or pitfalls of tech, what makes you want to help families see the good in technology?

Tech is a tool that can enhance our lives – personally, professionally, academically, socially, interpersonally. I see the best experience being the choice of the user – the how and why we use it. But, in our homes and families, this needs to be taught. Like anything else in child raising there need to be boundaries, communication, evaluation, and consistency. What we pay attention to usually gets healthier. This is how I feel about technology. It can be used in a healthy way if we give it the honest attention it demands. As a mother of a 9, 11, 12, 14 and 17-year-old, I know it’s not easy, and it won’t be perfect. But, it’s part of modern day parenting. We can’t hide from it.

How do you use technology to connect with your kids and husband?

We share content all the time – political, humor, sports, news, picture sharing, etc. We follow each other on social media. We text. When I’m traveling, I use FaceTime to show the kids where I’m staying and what I’m doing.

How does tech influence your work? How do you stay connected when you’re on the road for speaking engagements?

I love technology. I use it personally and professionally all the time. The way I can share work, continue my own learning, build connections with others, and be part of a global community is so powerful and so meaningful. I love that I can work from the road and stay in touch with my family so easily too.

Which is your favorite social media platform and why?

For myself, I use a lot of social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube. I find them all to be positive additions to my life. I just have to be intentional about how I manage my time online and set boundaries for myself, so it’s productive and not taking away from my life. As a curious and social person, my tech tendencies can lean towards overuse. I’m always paying attention to that.

Is there such a thing as a Tech-Healthy Family?

Yes! But, healthy doesn’t mean perfect. It means physically and emotionally healthy – balance and well-being as keys, and also a reflection of what’s important to each individual family system.

How does tech influence your parenting style? Has it changed the way you parent from time to time?

I just have to pay attention. So much can happen over the screens, and so much can change so quickly. It’s not so obvious what’s going on. I have to be dialed in, and I have to have a lot of deliberate conversations about tech. And, reminders – revisiting much of what I believe with my family. When I get overwhelmed by tech parenting, I have to go towards what I’m afraid of, what I feel like I can’t handle, and show up. This might mean hard conversations or imperfect interactions, but it’s the engagement that matters.

Is there something about the way your children use technology that surprises you?

The funny and ridiculous amount of close-ups or unflattering pics my older kids send of their faces over Snapchat to friends!

Have you ever had to terminate one of your contracts?

We’ve modified our contracts as the kids grow and change, as well as how the technology changes. It’s a working system. Tending to our boundaries around tech is an ongoing process.

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