Sisters teenager Chase Frankl balances screen time with trampoline time while his parents Jillian and Paul look on. photo by TL Brown
Sisters teenager Chase Frankl balances screen time with trampoline time while his parents Jillian and Paul look on. photo by TL Brown

Paul and Jillian Frankl had decisions to make. When should their son get a cell phone? Smartphone or flip? How could they help him use it wisely?

After reading articles on the subject, they settled on a contract. When Chase was 13, he was offered the option of using a cell phone that his parents would pay for-if he agreed to their terms of use (see sidebar, page 23).

The Frankls establish traditions and rules for the whole family. Mealtime is recommended by experts as a time to connect with family.

"We make it a habit to actually eat dinner together at a certain time, everyone's there and we aren't allowed to have electronics at the table," says Paul.

Chase notices how other families interact with each other and their technology.

"Sometimes we'll go to restaurants and I'll be, 'Wow, they're just all on their phones. They're not even looking at each other,'" he says.

"I'm happy that we're not like that, but then at other times I wish we were," he admits.

The Frankls lived in Portland and before that Cleveland, Ohio. Vacationing and camping in Central Oregon, they liked the people and kids they saw here. Eventually they moved a few miles outside Sisters.

"The lifestyle is - it just seems like it's that half-step off the real world," says Paul. "Everyone's got more time, is more patient, everyone knows each other."

Jillian tells a story about a recent youth group event at their house, when 15 teenagers spent the night.

"They walked in the door on Friday afternoon and I had a basket, and that was where all the phones went," she says. "And it was really interesting how quickly they adjusted to not having their phones."

"Some of them forgot their phones," Chase puts in.

"Yeah!" Jillian remembers. "The next day, we had two kids leave their phones, and we had to chase down their cars."

Turning off devices helps people of all ages learn to socialize. New research suggests that increased screen time (on the part of parents and/or children) may be contributing to kids' developmental problems, lack of empathy, attention-deficit disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Says Jillian, "You always hear from parents, 'They wouldn't know what to do without their phones,' but you'd be amazed ... just how quickly they adjust and really thrive at not having that screen in front of them."

The Frankls considered getting Chase a flip phone.

"Ironically, the flip phone was harder to lock down than the smartphone," says Paul. "The iPhone has better parental controls on it."

Chase says his friends sometimes laugh at him when those controls limit his phone use.

"Nothing that big," he shrugs. "Some of my friends don't even have phones. We usually jump on a trampoline or go down to the creek or just do something fun."

Solo time offline is important, too. Studies show that time alone in a natural environment can bring great rewards.

"It's a cool feeling," Chase says. "You can just be out there, and think about whatever you want... It's nice to have downtime without anyone watching you or texting you. You can just be alone and do whatever you want."

That kind of independence is one goal of the Frankls' parenting style.

"A bit more old-fashioned type parents is what we want to be," says Paul.

Reading about technology, which he uses frequently for his job, got Paul concerned.

"The addiction, the phone, the way it pings, the way it traps their minds at a younger age, has the same effect narcotics have on adult brains," he says. "That feeling doesn't actually create happiness; it creates that you want happiness. But you don't necessarily find happiness in the phone."

Paul was disturbed to learn "how smart the engineers are, where they actually design the phones to be addictive. The whole scrolling in Facebook is a method to addict you. Even when [Facebook-Instagram] sends you Likes, it's not in realtime."

Likes and other notifications show up based on when Facebook-Instagram's algorithms predict the user will be most likely to get sucked into the app.

"It seems a bit - I don't know if evil is the right word, but they know it's manipulating the mind," says Paul.

The contract and ongoing discussions with his parents give Chase a thoughtful perspective. What advice would he offer to others about their phones?

"I guess just, be on it less," he says. "When you don't need to be on it, be out in the world. It's about making memories and experiences in real life."

In the long run, he observes, "Nothing you do now on the phone is really going to matter."

As part of our ongoing series about kids, technology, and nature, The Nugget sat down with The Frankl family for an interview. How does your family handle tech? Email t@kidmadecamp.com.