by Ha Nguyen
When an American mother presented her 13-year-old son with an iPhone 5 – and a contract with strict guidelines - it set off a heated online debate about the role of technology in teenagers' lives.
According to the contract, the boy had to hand the phone to his parents at 7:30pm every night (9pm on the weekend) and could not bring it to school. He was also not allowed to write anything in a text message or email that he would not say out loud with his parents in the room.
"When we read those rules, we printed them out and stuck them on the wall so that our son could follow them," said Chu Hoang Khanh, the father of Chu Hoang Tung, a tenth-grader at Viet Duc High School. "Many of my friends also agreed with the rules and applied them at their homes."
However, he acknowledged that he and his wife were too busy to make sure their son would adhere to the rules.
Bui Thanh Phong, a friend of Khanh's, also made several rules when he bought his 12-year-old son a smartphone, but they were not so harsh.
"Many Vietnamese parents buy their children what they ask for. They do not pay much attention to teaching them how to use these things, particularly phones," he said. "We always remind our son not to spend too much time playing games on the phone – or to use the phone at all, to protect his short-sighted eyes. But we have no time to supervise him to make sure he really follows these rules."
Psychologist Nguyen Thi Ngoc Minh of the HCM City's National Administration Institute approved of the American mother's rules, saying they were educational but also preserved his independence.
"Parents should not interfere too much in children's lives. They should teach them life skills, not put pressure on them," said Minh.
The psychologist cautioned, however, that parents should make sure gifts are suitable for a child's budget. Since Viet Nam is still poor, parents should not present teenage children with expensive iPhones, because they don't know how to take care of such valuable objects.
Tung said he hates his phone being controlled by his parents.
"I can't follow all the rules my father stuck on our wall. I think I will return the phone to my parents soon," Tung said, adding that he would use his own money to buy a cheap Nokia.
In contrast, Tung's friend Hoang Nguyen Thu Ngoc said she felt comfortable turning off the phone to spend time with her family or leaving it at home to go out.
"I hate seeing a family dinner where each family member pays attention to his or her phone. I'm certain that my parents do not like it either," Ngoc said.
And while many teenagers are constantly filming on their iPhones, she agreed with the American mother's rule not to use the phone to take too many photos or videos: "We should experience life by ourselves."
According to 18-year-old Nguyen Thi Thuy, the American mother's rules – if followed properly – would help teenagers live more fulfilling lives.
"In the past, I felt I couldn't live without my phone and laptop. Then I read the rules and started to leave those things at home when I went out. I realise now that there are many valuable things beside phones and laptops, such as joining my family members to watch an interesting TV programme or going for a walk with a close friend to share an interesting story," Thuy said.
While the rules may cause older teenagers to feel inhibited, they would be helpful for 13 and 14-year-olds who have never had such an expensive phone, the teenager added.
"I want to print the rules and present them to my son when he turns 14," Thuy said. — VNS