If we approach children with the understanding that they already have power in the form of free will (that means you decide what to believe and who to follow), the conversations about boundary setting on and off-line can transform into understanding how to be in charge of your world and stay free from undue influences (bullies and pedophiles).
Frame the conversation about learning personal control
Every parent is confronted with the emotionally intense pressure of kids whose desire to jump into the social network can feel supernatural. There are so many influences including the intoxicating impact of notification alerts when using apps and games and the “keeping up with the Jones’ effect” when other kids are communicating via social media networks where adult content is prevalent. Naturally kids do not want to feel excluded or isolated when it seems that everyone is already on Instagram, for example, and they have not yet had their ninth birthday. So the challenge is to prepare your child to think bigger than the screen, and to understand that your role as the parent is to help them be prepared to use devices and apps without giving up too much personal power (i.e., become engaged in bullying, addiction or exploitation). No child wants to be duped by bad actors and bullies, and they already get a lot of fear and fakery in their world. So your conversation about cyber safety should cater to this desire to be in charge of their world. You are teaching them how to be secure in the social network.
An effective way to engage your child’s intellect and will for owning the boundaries for cyber safety, is to pose the question: “Who is in charge? Me or the device?”
Managing personal boundaries
Explain to your child that setting limits for yourself and others is the way to be in charge of your world – starting with how, where and when you will present a personal profile in the social network. Come up with some criteria to discuss with your child about what being in charge of your cyber life looks like. You might start the conversation with some suggestions:
- Internet connectivity requires responsible use. To limit the personal power we give up by we must honor other important commitments that require undivided attention, such as homework, family business and social events by putting the device away.
- Establish a time at night when the device is turned off and recharged.
- No secrets. Secrets harbor risky conduct and relationships that can cause harm to self and other family members. Bullies and pedophiles are counting on it. Parents have the authority to provide protective cover and monitor cyber communications for your personal security and to impart wisdom. Parents should respect privacy, but not grant it. That means you do not blab to others about your child’s personal business and issues without permission.
- Every app that is downloaded must be “family-approved.” This applies to the parents as well. (See below).
- Then make sure you have some house rules that reflect the criteria above.
Family-approved app list & honoring age-restrictions
Your primary objective is to help your child understand certain limits are to protect them from things that are inappropriate, and prepare them to be responsible users of the technology in the future. So when your child expresses a desire to establish a social media account in order to join their peers, the answer is not “no”, it is when (if not now) and why. This is your opportunity to impart your wisdom about cyber-safe habits, which can be demonstrated before they gain access to more sophisticated apps in adult networks.
Establish a “family-approved app list” for every individual that tracks which age-appropriate apps are being used and why. The idea is to communicate a sense of purpose as well as establishing a standard for content. For example, you may have some apps that deal with accounting or publishing related to your business or running the home. These would be listed as well so the children get a sense of how decisions are made about downloading apps, especially free ones.
The other thing to talk about is malware, and that free apps are always accompanied with the risk of bad actors downloading programs through free stuff and getting access to your personal information. So the “family-approved app” listing is one of the ways in which every member of the family sets and maintains controls over their cyber experiences.
Texting and social Media age restrictions. The “family-approved app” listing criteria would include honoring age restrictions associated with social media. Keep in mind that texting is possible with free apps like KikMessenger, which is web-based and does not require a phone number from your mobile communications service provider. So be clear that “texting apps” are a part of the social media category. All of the popular and free apps have age-restrictions, as described below:
- The minimum age to open an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Kik, and Snapchat is 13 years old.
- For Vine, Tinder and Yik Yak it’s 17 years old.
- YouTube requires account holders to be 18, but a 13-year-old can sign up with a parent’s permission.
- For children younger than 13, introduce alternatives that are designed for younger audiences. Common sense media offers a comprehensive listing to get you started.
For more templates about age-appropriate boundaries for the use of smart devices, go to download this free ebook: Cyber Rites of Passage.
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.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and spiritual resilience. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.