=== Buying a Laptop ===
My daughter approached me recently and asked the question, "Dad, will you buy me a laptop?"
Fear set in. Will she be stalked online? Will she email strangers? Oh Lord, how will I pay for it? As fear subsided, I asked a different line of questions. Will this help her with her schoolwork? Is this an opportunity to inspire her? And finally, what does my wife think of the idea? Oh yes, I have 3 daughters and a wife. As the sole male in our house, my ideas are not always received with grand acceptance. My wife is the conservative parent in our home. She works at a bank and I work as a consultant for emerging technology companies. Having "the boss" in on this request was going to be a challenge.
The Sale Pitch
I spoke with my wife and, we agreed, money was tight. I truly believe a child takes better care of an item if they contribute to the purchase. A $900 purchase ($600 laptop, $200 software, $100 accessories) was going to be a big purchase.
I use a laptop for my profession and we have a desktop station in our family room. The desktop is directly connected to the cable modem and has a HP printer. We have Comcast for our ISP. I connect to the modem (internet) via a Wireless Router. Having an extra laptop was not going to increase the cost of our ISP service and would free up the desktop for my wife and other 2 daughters to have computer access time during daylight hours.
So, how were we going to foot the bill for this purchase?
This is the part when most parents chuckle. My wife agreed to allow my daughter to have her own laptop, but she would have to pay for it - not part of it, but all of it. What, a 14 year old buying her own laptop? Where would she come up with that kind of money?
Each of my daughters has a GTMA savings account with my wife and I as the assigned Guardians. GTMA is short for Gift To Minor Act. Like many parents, we established an allowance system with each of our girls for helping with family chores. At age 6, yes we started them young, their assigned chores were making their bed, setting the table, and cleaning one room in the house a week (normally their bedroom). They started at $1 a week and 1/2 of all their allowance has to go into their savings account. They can receive a "bonus" of $0.25 for extra tasks, such as sorting laundry or folding socks. By age 10, my two oldest daughters each had saved $100 + in their accounts. By age 14, my oldest had saved over $300 in her account. My oldest achieved straight A's her first semester as a Freshman in High School. She was excited to buy a laptop, so we completed the required paperwork (as required by NH law) to allow her to work part-time at a local assisted living facility down the road from us. She works 4-7pm each Wednesday and Sunday. At minimum wage (now $7.25 per hour) and maintaining the "savings rule" of contributing 1/2 of her earnings to her savings account, my eldest was able to build her account balance to over $1,100.
Last weekend she purchased a HP laptop at Staples for just under $900 with 2G of RAM, a 500 MB hard drive, a student version of MS Office, and Norton anti-virus protection.
The Computer Contract
You might find the next section to be unusual, but I have found that children appreciate clarity in their lives. They don't mind rules as long as they understand the intended purpose, the rules are fair, and the rules are easy to follow. A simple written outline of what is expected will help to reduce misunderstandings with your teenagers.
The laptop acquisition by our oldest daughter became a big family event. Like purchasing the bicycle for your first child, allowing one daughter to have a laptop, sets the expectation level for the next child.
How did we arrive at the wording for the Laptop Agreement (aka Computer Contract)? I had my daughter write the 1st draft of the agreement. What! Yes, if paying for an item ensures a child takes personal care for the item, then the process of them writing an agreement will have their support when enforcing it. Additionally, this gave her experience in writing what is known in business as a Working Agreement. Our goal as parents is to provide a safe, encouraging, and challenging environment for our children. The Laptop Agreement has been a tool to help us accomplish this goal. In the following outline, I have changed my daughter's name to Debbie for privacy purposes.
Laptop Agreement (Computer Contract)
I, Debbie, agree to adhere to the following rules regarding my laptop.
- Debbie will complete all homework before social or entertainment use of her laptop.
- Debbie will shut off her laptop on/by 10:00 P.M. unless what is being worked on is homework in which case, it would go off when the homework is completed.
- Debbie will keep her laptop at home. It does not travel unless parental permission has been granted.
- Debbie will store all passwords (to websites such as Edline) in a file under "My Documents" named "Passwords."
- Debbie will not talk to strangers via Internet. A "stranger" is defined as someone not known by Mom and/or Dad.
- Debbie will not watch or take part in anything inappropriate.
- Debbie will state exactly what she is doing on her laptop if asked.
- Debbie will not use her laptop while a parent is talking to her.
- Debbie will keep all food and drinks at least an arms length away from the laptop.
- Debbie will not join any social Internet sites without Mom or Dad's prior approval. (Ex: Facebook, Myspace, etc.)
- Debbie will only have one (1) email address of which username and password will be shared with Mom and Dad.
- Debbie will keep a log of her IM in a file/folder.
- Debbie will be the only one to use the laptop.
- Mom and Dad will randomly review Debbie's IM log and her emails for potential inappropriate behavior. Any inappropriate comments or behavior may lead to loss of her computer usage and the laptop will be taken away from Debbie.
Agreed and accepted:
Mom (mom's name) Date
Dad (dad's name) Date
Owner (daughter's name) Date
Our daughter, "Debbie", has recently enrolled in honors courses and continues to maintain straight A's while being active in school functions and socially active. My initial "random review" of her laptop showed no surprises and she chuckled as she asked if she passed the fire drill. Yes, dear, you continue to impress Dad. I have to confess, I am impressed. I was not a talented scholar in High School and barely survived academically at a local college in the 80's having attended one too many fraternity parties.
Next, you guessed it, she is asking about college. That conversation will have to be another day. (maybe a future article)
If you decide to use a Computer Contract with your child, I would strongly suggest asking them to create the first draft. The exercise will be insightful and the quality of their outline will surprise you. Additionally, this will provide both you and your child a tool to have an open discussion about how they are progressing in school. Please do not simply copy the above Laptop Agreement, print it, and hand it to them. They will FREAK over the idea. However, if they draft the 1st version and you (as a parent) use the above as a cheat sheet to add a couple suggestions to their version, they will be surprisely receptive to the concept. Try it!
I hope this article has been helpful. Please leave comments for future readers and feel free to email a copy of this page to a friend or family member. The email button is in the Tool Box at the top right.