Cyber Rites of Passage
- Setting and maintaining age-appropriate boundaries in this web-enabled environment is tricky and achievable. Ultimately the goal is to groom your child to be self-governing and responsible with the cyber-powered applications and tools.
Rites of passage typically provide some definitive criteria for conferring roles, responsibilities, rights and privileges and social standing to individuals as they mature in society. It is a way of raising children into adulthood with tangible, meaningful markers openly recognized by the community. Some traditions as examples include baptism, marriage, coming of age (Bat and Bar Mitzvah). The rites of passage for use of cyber devices and apps are presented into five levels (see below): TinyTot, Early Ranger, Ranger, Early Explorer and Explorer. By the time your child has graduated to Explorer level (age 16) it is as if you are handing over the keys to the car. (Source: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media—2011)
User levels to establish age-appropriate boundaries for social media
TinyTot ( 2 years and under) The Tiny Tot requires limited to no use of screen time closely monitored. Mostly the interface infants and toddlers require is human and the science on brains reveals that interaction with screens does change the brain.. The American Academy of of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children two years and under.
EarlyRanger (3-5 years) From three to five years of age, the device should be used with strict supervision. The child should not be left alone with the device and passwords are not granted. Applications or games that are permitted for the Early Ranger to use should be logged into the “family approved” app list for User Level 2.
The care giver must be able to see what the child is doing at all times. Kids this age learn passwords by osmosis and are intuitive about figuring out how to access and make applications work. I have heard many stories from parents whose very young children figured out passwords and learned how to access the family centric apps, like NetFlix, or the smart phone. These are digital natives. Make no mistake. They do not require training on how to access the tools; rather they require training and supervision on the boundaries for their safe use. So don’t leave them unattended with mobile devices. Ever.
Ranger (6-10 years) Children aged six to ten years of age are issued devices much like checking out a library book. They are issued the device (iPad, Notebook, video game) for a designated timeframe, and then returned. There is general oversight. The Rangers should not be left completely alone with the devices. There should be a responsible older user conducting random checks on the applications being used and what is happening on and off line. This is the time to have conversations about the fact that there is NO PRIVACY in the network, and so your child should not be seeking privacy from parents or keeping secrets. Hence, random checks to inspect what you expect: good decisions on the part of your child.
Junior Explorer (ages 11-15) At this point, your child has demonstrated that she understands the importance of setting boundaries regarding who has access to his personal information (phone number, address, where attends school, etc.) and knowing the source of the apps being used. The “family approved list” may be expanded to included the new applications that interest your child as a Junior Explorer, and there should be an understanding to seek parental approval before downloading any new app.
Texting: Use of texting must be with the understanding that you will conduct random checks and that all the communications will be “E” for everyone. Drill it into them that there is NO PRIVACY in the net. As with the Ranger, free texting and video chat apps are easily accessed via wireless mobile devices, so be clear with our child about what apps you are approving for her on the family app listing and conduct random checks to verify that your child is successfully honoring the boundaries.
Social media: If it is possible to hold off until your child is 16 years old to create a Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, or other social media account – that would be ideal. For kids younger than 16, years old check out http://www.YourSphere.com – a kid friendly, digital hang out designed by kids and governed by cyber security experts to ensure that there is security in their social connections and content is appropriate.
Explorer (16-18 years) The Explorer user should be ready for social media. At this point, your child appreciates that there is no privacy, that you will be conducting random checks on texts and posts to social media. Periodically review and update the house rules for cyber secure communication with your child – especially if they are pushing for more freedoms. Listen and come up with ways to address their needs that are consistent with your family values.
Have your child maintain a list of “approved” apps that she is using and review with you periodically. As with the Junior Explorer user, your Explorer should seek your approval before downloading apps – especially free ones which could contain malware and nefarious influences (including predators). The fact that there is NO PRIVACY in the network is reinforced by random checks to posts and texts.
Proceed to next article: A parents’ guide to social media
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.