Helpless in cyberspace: Ollie draws up the Banks family smartphone charter

Ollie Banks and his wife Lizzie decide to resist becoming smartphone slaves by drawing up a ‘fair usage’ charter to guide them and their children and they’ve shared it with us…

Engrossed watching Andy Murray powering his way to a place in the third round at Wimbledon, Ollie hadn’t noticed that his daughter Alice had picked up his smartphone – but Lizzie did when she came in bringing cold drinks for them all.

“And what are you doing with Daddy’s phone, young lady?” she wanted to know.

“Ringing Grandad,” said Alice, not looking up from the screen.

“Let’s do that later,” said Lizzie, swapping phone for a glass of fruit squash. “Have a drink now, I’ve brought biscuits as well.”

Alice surrendered the phone to Ollie, who was happy to take a drink. On screen, the players were doing the same.

Lizzie spoke. “We need to talk,” she said. Raising his eyebrows and putting down his glass, Ollie said: “I don’t like the sound of that; go on…”

“Phones,” said Lizzie. “We need to talk phones and Alice; and then Jack, later. How do we let them learn about the technology, and keep them safe online, and not let technology rule our lives ­– though I notice that when there’s sport on the TV, you’re a complete slave to it already.”

Setting an example
Ollie had to agree, on both counts. “It can be a problem, and I think as far as Alice and Jack are concerned, it starts with us. They’re learning by watching what we do. It’s what children are supposed to do, so I guess we’re setting a bad example.”

Lizzie nodded. “We are, and we can do something about that easily, but what about outside influences? What about Facebook, and Twitter, and the rest of social media? How do we police all of that that?”

Ollie shrugged. “The honest answer is that I don’t know. After all, there’s so much good stuff out there that we can access through smartphone technology. Closer contact with the family with emails and texts is reassuring, and it will be the same when the children are older and going out on their own. And then think of all the helpful apps – look at what ExpenseOnDemand has done for us and our money management on a personal as well as a professional level. It’s made a huge difference to us. And then there’s my fitness tracker; that’s having a really positive influence on the exercise I’m taking…”

 ‘Why do I feel helpless,’ asks Lizzie
Lizzie was nodding. “If it’s so good, then why do I feel so helpless about potentially surrendering our lives to the little blue screen?” she wanted to know. “How do we guard against becoming spectators in our own lives. Remember all those people at Glastonbury watching a live stage show on their phones when it was happening right in front of them? How could we do this to ourselves?

“More importantly, why should we?” asked Ollie. “If we could answer it easily, everyone would be doing it. We ought to take a stand. I’m going to do some research, and I’m going to draw up the Banks Family Smartphone Charter. I’ll start as soon as Andy Murray has won this game…”

 Banks Family Smartphone Charter
A few days later Ollie had produced his charter, and fastened it to the front of the fridge with some of Alice’s alphabet magnets. This is what he’d written:

  1. No phones in the bedroom – ever
  2. No use of phones, tablets, or laptops for at least 90 minutes before bedtime
  3. Phones to be put into a drawer out of sight at every mealtime
  4. No phones to be used in restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops
  5. Phone use to be monitored using an app (I know, but it’ll be worth it)
  6. Go for a daily walk, and leave the phones at home.
  7. Review app use; delete unnecessary ones.
  8. Don’t upgrade to phones with capacity we don’t need.
  9. Pay for stuff with cards or good old-fashioned cash, not the phone’s wallet.
  10. Turn off notifications, so our phones aren’t so needy.
  11. Enjoy each other’s company more.

Follow NSPCC advice about online safety

  1. Talk about staying safe online with Alice and Jack
  2. Explore things online together
  3. Agree rules about what’s OK and what’s not
  4. Manage our safety settings and controls

Lizzie read it through. “Good job, Banks. I like it. Now we have a plan to work to, I feel much better about things, and I know our phones won’t take over our lives.”