Feb. 7, 2013 at 3:30 PM ET
The “Facebook Deactivation Agreement” wasn’t the first pact Paul Baier made with 14-year-old daughter. Past accords involved pushups (if he did five, she’d do two) and candy (both would go 3 to 4 days without eating any). But when Baier conceded to pay his only child $200 if she stayed off Facebook until the end of the school year — and posted a photo of the official contract they’d both signed on his blog — it became his first parenting decision to go viral on the Internet.
“Shocked” is how Baier says he feels about all the attention from both online commenters and news outlets talking about the contract he tells TODAY was his daughter’s idea.
As for his daughter, “she is absolutely baffled why the adults are so interested in the story,” Baier told TODAY. What’s more, when local reporters wanted to call upon the Boston family, Baier says he was surprised when the teen told him she had no interest in being on TV.
“She just didn’t understand what the hubbub was about, and adults can’t understand that there’s a teenager in America who can live without Facebook,” says Baier. “Once again, teens and parents are learning what different assumptions they have about each other.”
Plenty of assumptions are being made about this contract, with more than a few commenters on both Baier’s personal blog and on news stories accusing the father of either forcing the high school freshman into the agreement, or bribing her into responsible behavior. “Why not try something called ‘parenting?’” reads one of the angrier comments on Baier’s blog, Practical Sustainability, which is usually dedicated to topics he deals with as the vice president of an energy firm in Salem, Mass. “It's more difficult than bribery but will [be] more beneficial to your daughter in the long run. Otherwise, she sounds like a spoiled brat and that's your fault.”
Such accusations have little in common with how this whole deal came about, Baier says. “It’s simpler than that,” he says. His daughter was frustrated she couldn’t find babysitting jobs and couldn’t earn much through chores, so she made a proposal to her pop. If she stayed off Facebook until the end of the school year, would he pay her $200? “I told her to go away, ‘there’s no way you can live without Facebook.’”
Baier's daughter is an honor student. She gets her work done and Facebook really isn’t a problem for her, he says. Nonetheless, “it’s definitely distracting. Everybody at her school is connected to everyone,” he adds. “Sometimes they talk about school work, but 90 percent of the time, it’s meaningless or distracting.”
After he refused her initial offer, she came back two days later, and asked again. So Baier quizzed her. “Aren't you going to be out of the loop?” he asked. “Dad, I see my friends every day at school,” she countered.
So it was agreed. Baier told her, “if we do this, we’re going to have a contract.” Which they did, complete with safeguards. She handed over her password so that he could change it, making it all the harder for his daughter to breach their business arrangement.
“Some blogs and stories say I’m forcing her off it,” says Baier. “I see it as see it as encouraging someone to use Facebook in moderation. And she goes five months without Facebook, that’s a real value to me and I’m happy to support that.”
TODAY Moms contributer Amy McCready, who is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and author of “If I Have to Tell You One More Time,” agrees. “I am not in favor of bribing kids to get good behavior,” she told TODAY. “But I don’t think this is about that at all.”
“I think this a great example of a daughter’s entrepreneurship, ingenuity and a great lessons learned in business,” McCready says. “She had trouble finding employment. From my perspective, she came up with an idea her customer found appealing and she presented a proposal. I’m sure there was some negotiation back and forth and he accepted it.”
McCready, who is a staunch proponent of monitoring kids' activities on social networks, adds that if a child does have problems with distraction and the Internet, it's important to put guidelines and rules in place, and not resort to bribery.
With this particular father and daughter however, it's not about bribery, says McCready. “Not only was it a great way to bring a father and daughter closer together,” she says, the teen “learned about contracts, how you get payment up front and payment at the end of the contract for performance. It’s very much a win-win for both of them, and maybe even a lesson she can take with her to college.”
As for Dad, he sees the sudden attention as a good thing. “Hopefully it inspires parents and kids,” he told TODAY. “A hiatus from Facebook is healthy.”
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