Sometimes it takes a modern approach to parenting to achieve desired results. Mel Watts admits she doesn’t get it right all the time, and she openly shares her mixed results on her blog. But when her preteen son wanted a cell phone, she came up with a plan that many parents agreed was right on the money.
Life can be difficult. And when kids enter into the equation, the trials and anxieties that come with it can carry the same weight as the rewards and joy that parenting brings. And the situation of being a mom was one that Australian blogger Watts found herself in at a very young age.
Mel became a mom at 19. At 20 she was a single parent to her son: Ayden. No doubt the path of a single mom would have been a difficult one to navigate, not least because Mel was still finding her own way in life. But things would soon turn around.
Still in her early 20s, Mel began dating Nolan in 2009. The young couple fell in love, and in 2014 they got married. Around the same time, Mel started blogging about her life, aiming to connect with other parents who could relate to what she was going through. She calls herself The Modern Mumma.
Indeed, while the traditional route to starting a family would once have been to get married and then have kids, today things are not always so straightforward. It’s certainly something Mel can relate to. You see, not only was she mom to Ayden, but somebody else had popped into her and Nolan’s life before they married.
In 2012 Mel and Nolan had welcomed their first child together. Ivie was Nolan’s firstborn, but she was Mel’s second. And while Ayden’s biological father is still an important part of the 12-year-old’s life, that’s not to say Nolan plays any less of a paternal role for the preteen.
Then take into consideration that Mel and Nolan have since had two more children together. A little over a year after they married, the couple’s second daughter, Indie, arrived. She was followed by Nolan’s first son – but Mel’s second – Sonny in 2017. As well as a full pair of hands, Mel, then, would have plenty of content for her blog.
Mel’s blog offers a very honest commentary on parenting. In fact, there are very few subjects that are taboo. On some occasions, even Nolan has gotten involved and spoken very openly about the vasectomy he underwent in February 2018. Yet that’s not even the most personal subject broached across Mel’s channels.
In July 2016 Mel shared a story with her followers that involved a rather intimate moment with her husband. As parents, it can be difficult to find time together simply as partners with no kids around. It was, she felt, a funny story that she shared in her usual, light-hearted, no-holds-barred style.
However, there were some who took exception to Mel’s level of openness. Some of the responses and comments she received were downright nasty. But the stay-at-home mom’s loyal followers had her back, jumping on anyone daring to drag her down. In fact, it’s Mel’s honesty that resonates most with her audience.
Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook can often present a filtered view of people’s lives. Mel, however, offers a warts and all view of hers. She is just winging it like everyone else, and realizes that there’s no “one size fits all” approach that works for everybody, even when it comes to her own kids.
So when Mel’s oldest son wanted a cell phone, she had a dilemma. After the trauma of her own online bullying, she obviously didn’t want Ayden to be subjected to the same level of harassment. Then there was the negative effects simply of too much screen time. What is a mother to do?
Well, Mel allowed her son to have a cell phone, but it came with conditions. A whole list of them, in fact. Actually, it was more like a full-blown contract, with no fewer than 17 terms and conditions Ayden must adhere to if he was to be allowed to keep the phone.
As Mel wrote on her blog, “Before we gave Ayden his [cell] phone, we wrote up an agreement that was to be agreed on by his three parents (modern day families these days lol) and then had to be signed by ALL parties.” The idea was a very clever one that set out some rules.
Mel continued, “This piece of paper pretty much gave us the ability to put down some ground rules and also allow us to monitor what he’s doing.” But not only did it lay out sensible guideline’s for Ayden to follow, it provided peace of mind for Mel, who, in fact, was reluctant to grant her son a phone.
“To be honest, no, I don’t think we should be giving our younger teenagers mobile phones with social media,” Mel wrote on her blog. “However, I didn’t want to be that parent who wouldn’t allow it.” Indeed, the mom-of-four could draw on her own experience to reach her solution.
Mel admitted, “I grew up with parents who didn’t allow me to have a phone and I did feel isolated and left out. It wasn’t a nice feeling.” The stay-at-home-mom, then, had good enough reason to allow her son a cell phone. So what was it she insisted Ayden do to keep it?
The contract began, “A phone is a responsibility you have to earn to be able to use.” Indeed, phones can be expensive, and the cost of their use can quickly spiral out of control if the user exceeds monthly call, text or data allowances. So Mel, her husband and Ayden’s dad made one thing clear from the start.
“This phone belongs to us and you’re borrowing it,” the contract stated. “You own the number and the data.” With the three parents named as the phone’s owner, then, it was perhaps the hope that Ayden would take better care of it. Presumably he wouldn’t get another if he broke or lost it.
Then came the killer blow. The contract stated, “By agreeing to these terms and conditions you understand at any point you can and will have this phone removed from your hands and reassessment may be done regarding the rules and conditions.” Mel, then, appeared to be laying down a zero tolerance strategy.
Rule number one: “You acknowledge that if the phone is broken or lost, you are to replace it or fix it at your own cost.” This is big. Phones are expensive and it’s highly unlikely a 12-year-old’s pocket money would stretch to repairing or replacing one. Ayden, then, was likely to take extra care of it.
Ayden’s parents, however, seemed sympathetic to the idea that accidents could happen. Together with the first rule, then, Mel stated that she had gone to the expense of providing top-of-the-line covers and screen protectors that, she stipulated in the contract, Ayden had to keep in place no matter what.
One of the primary purposes of a cell phone is to allow its user to be contacted at all times. In the second rule, then, Mel stipulated that Ayden must always respond when his parents call. If that proved not to be possible, then he should message straight back. Failure to do so would result in a manhunt.
Next came a clever way to police Ayden’s use of the phone. Each month the phone came with free credit. Once used up, the 12-year-old would have to wait until the allowance renewed for more. Either that or he could earn extra by completing his chores – a win-win for Mel.
Rules four, five and six placed further checks on Ayden’s use of the phone. Rule four stated that bedroom use was out of bounds. In fact, the check on number five meant the phone was to be handed to a parent before bedtime, whether at Mom’s or Dad’s house.
Mel also applied further screen time conditions. As stated in rule number six, “Screen times apply. No messaging people before 7:30AM. Some people actually sleep in – strange huh.” So just because Ayden may have been an early riser did not mean he was to disturb others from their peaceful slumbers.
There was, however, more for Ayden to consider outside of his mother’s cell phone contract. Indeed, the 12-year-old might find himself in situations where others had their own sets of policies and rules regarding phone use. In those cases, his mom suggested that he ought to adhere to those practices when appropriate.
For Ayden, school may have been a tempting place to misuse his phone. With many friends around it might have been easy to forget the terms of the contract his mom laid out. Mel’s message, however, was clear. Break the school’s rules on phone use and he’d risk the phone being taken away at home.
Further to these reasonable-use policies, Mel then laid out some guidance for how Ayden should use the phone. Or rather, she explained to him how it was not to be used. Having been the victim of bullies on her own social media channels, Mel wanted to see her son lead by example.
First, rule number eight stated that photos and videos could only be taken of people who had agreed to be in the photo in the first place. This particularly applief to people Ayden doesn’t know. And if anyone expressly requested an image not be taken, then their wishes must be honored.
Then Mel devised a clever rule to help Ayden to gauge whether content he might upload is appropriate. Rule nine read, “Do NOT upload anything on social media that you wouldn’t like being uploaded about yourself or your sisters. Or you wouldn’t want your mother or grandmother to see.” But there was more.
With her own victimization in mind, Mel set out a doozy in rule number 10. It said, “Don’t troll people on social media. If you can’t say it to their face, don’t write it.” And if Ayden broke that rule he risked losing access to social media entirely. Boom. Nailed it.
But, you might be wondering, how would Mel police her son’s use of the phone? The clever mom, however, remained one step ahead. The next two rules allowed Ayden’s parents to monitor exactly how and when their son was using his phone. And any deception would have harsh consequences.
Ayden was to provide login details for all his accounts. Whether he liked it or not, his parents would maintain full access to his social media profiles to monitor what he was doing. If he changed passwords without their knowledge, or if he deliberately covered up what he was doing, they’d revoke his social media access.
So Mel had set out all the ground rules for her son to keep the phone. But so far it had been geared toward Ayden’s misuse of the gadget. Of course, what parent would believe their child had the worst of intentions? And so she added stipulations to ensure his own welfare.
Mel first encouraged Ayden to be mindful about anything he posts to social media. First, he should realize that something written with the best of intentions may not always come across that way. For example, something that’s said in good humor to a friend might lose its meaning in writing.
But perhaps the most important thing on Mel’s mind was protecting Ayden from the everything she was telling her own son not to do. And so she stressed, “If you are being bullied – show us. Don’t hide it.” After all, online trolls can be vicious and unrelenting, as Mel knew only too well.
Mel received an incredibly positive response when she shared this clever contract with her followers on social media. Many said they’d be implementing the idea with their own kids when they were old enough. One said, “Props to you, Mumma! Such a well thought out contract. And the strike system is the goods.”
The “strike system” is a visual guide for Ayden. Whereas the 12-year-old would only lose access to the phone after breaking many of the rules three times, some were much less lenient. The rules Mel had highlighted in bold were deemed more serious, and phone access would be revoked after only one offence.
The contract, then, is open to renewal when Ayden turns 15. But Mel also has tips for parents when allowing their kids phones. She stresses that it’s important you know what your child is doing online, even if they’re being evasive – it probably means they’re hiding something. Her biggest message is, “Trust your gut. If you feel something is off, search the phone.”