Teach your child to rule their cyber world

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

TheFish103.9 CyberParenting Topic:

Photo: photograsaur (Flickr)

How to rule your cyber world

Without house rules to help your child internalize boundary setting in the net, she will have less control and become vulnerable to the risks associated with cyberbullying, pedophiles and predators, drug and alcohol culture and anxiety (mental health issues including sleepnessness and depression).

Relating with your child about the  house rules for texting, surfing and social media is mission critical. Here’s how to help your child understand what it means to defend individual liberty.

Explain why cyber-safe house rules are important and what they look like

Cyber safe rules set boundaries for personal security and how the technology is used to express your values (i.e., standards for civil conduct, language, etc.). The rules pertain to:

  • How much personal data you post/share via social media, email and texting
  • The amount of time you spend every day on the Internet playing games, in social media, and texting
  • Standards for conduct on-line; how to treat others (hero logic and anti-bullying)
  • Managing the privacy settings of every application used (especially social media) to limit over exposure
  • Mobile phone etiquette  and safety – when to put down the phone and pay attention

What children need to understand about house rules

Cyber safe house rules make individual liberty possible. If you do not enforce boundaries, then you are not in charge.

Compare to off-line examples:

  • Lock the front door at night
  • Alarm and lock the car
  • Gates and fences to protect property

On-line examples:

  • Parental controls on television and computer applications
  • Internet security software/Anti-virus software
  • Self governance through house rules (every individual can  be counted upon to do the right thing)

These rules are a part of your family culture and are not negotiable based upon what other parents allow your child’s friends to do.

The rules may be individualized based upon requirements and are age-appropriate.  Examples: Mom, Dad and big brother may have a need to spend more time on line to complete work and homework assignments; or Mom is excused to talk on her mobile phone after the “disconnect time” because of an urgent family matter with her aging parents.

Profiling is serious business – parents need to approve any personal information you share with others so that your exposure to bad actors and bullies is limited. Example: Parents have access to all social media accounts and monitor texting; at a designated time, mobile phones are turned in for centralized recharging at night – as children demonstrate responsible use, more autonomy is granted. For more see “How to hover over your child’s facebook account.”

Hard and fast rule for your minor child: only “friend” people you personally know or met at school. Do not agree to friend requests that say they know a friend of yours.

Beverly Gable is a staff psychologist with the Roseville Police Department, Roseville, Ca. She encourages parents to relate to their teens with the proper use of cyber technology.

Beverly Gable, Roseville PD, Roseville, CA

“Hover over your child’s texting and Facebook conversations. It gives you great insight about how your children are maturing in their communications with those in their friend network, and also gives you a chance to coach or redirect when you witness situations that are not in alignment with your child’s values,” Gable said.


Here is a great motto for hovering:

inspect what you expect…

Tell your child that you expect she is expressing her values in her communications and on-line conduct, and so you do spot checks to catch her doing things right.  Your objective in enforcing rules should be to help our digital natives come to appreciate the cyber safe rules as a benefit, not a constraint. Become a trusted resource for your child who is coaching them on how to stay in charge of their on-line world.


What if it’s too late? My teen has already established their pattern of use, without my involvement and it makes me uneasy.

It is never too late.

Talk about cyber safety in terms of how to rule your cyber world…

The best cyber safety measure is ongoing communication. And so a very effective approach when starting with a teen is collaborative and allows your teen to have input and share what their best practices already are, and what they might want to consider doing differently.

Start with conversations about what is happening in their world. Use headlines, you can set up Google alerts for keywords like “texting”, “teenagers”, parenting and Facebook…that will send you news items on a daily or weekly basis to discuss (in addition to what you come across in your local papers and community). 

If your teen has younger siblings, ask them what cyber safe rules do they think should be in place based upon their own experience. If they don’t have younger siblings, tell them you are helping a friend with younger children.

Most teens have a good idea of what the cyber safe rules should be. The question is are they practicing it, and are they supported in holding fast to their own values. Have regular conversations about their values – for family, friendship, for being a student, sports team mate, whatever their interest is…encourage them to hold fast to those values.

This requires that the parent does more listening than talking.

No secrets, no surprises

Photo: JOID(Flickr)

If your teen is being a good citizen at home and school, perhaps there is no need to push the matter. However, remember that as parents, our custodial duty is to ensure they are safe and since there is truly no such thing as privacy in the net, your teen might as well grant access to their texting and social media communications as a type of safety net. If they don’t want to give you access to randomly check, or inspect what you expect, consider there is another issue that needs to be addressed. The worst thing we can do to our children is allow their secrets fester unchecked, which usually involve risky behavior or harmful relationships.

Note to self: Once you have access to your teens social media and mobile communications, be sure to respect their boundaries. Do not chastise them on-line, remain in “lurk only mode” and pull them aside off-line if there is anything you have observed that requires attention or redirection.  The aim here is to become the trusted advisor for personal security only. Unless your teen asks for your advice or opinion about anything else, it is best to remain a neutral presence.

For more about authentic boundaries and authority go to: The Authority In Me

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.