With their family’s well-being in mind, many parents are exploring ways to limit screen time, help their children develop positive social media behaviors, and monitor their children online to keep them safe. Many parents are wondering: Will a family social media contract help keep my kids safe?
So, we asked 3 experts to share their advice about whether or not parents should create a family contract with social media guidelines and what to include if they should.
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1. Clearly explain to your kids why you are establishing social media guidelines
Josh Ochs, SmartSocial.com
The goal of your family social media contract should be to keep your family safe, ensure that your children know that they can always come to you if they encounter an uncomfortable situation, and teach your kids how to use social media as a tool that will build a positive online reputation.
- Start your family social media contract explaining how social media can impact your whole family. It’s important for your kids to understand why you are establishing these guidelines. When your kids start to see the real life consequences of making mistakes on social media, they will start being more aware of their behavior online.
- Establish expectations for all of your family’s devices. Include them in the social media contract and ensure your children understand them clearly. For example, you may want access to all of your child’s passwords — if that’s the case it should be clearly stated in your contract.
- Set a screen time schedule. Establish when devices can be used and when they cannot. For example, you might want to set rules around putting devices away during dinner or at night 1-2 hours before bed.
- Outline where the devices can and cannot be used. It’s always a good idea to keep your family’s computer in a highly trafficked part of the house, so it’s easy to monitor your child when they’re using it. More importantly, if your teens have their driver’s license it’s imperative to include a statement that they will not use their devices while driving.
- Teach your children to ask before downloading a new app or creating an account on social media. Including this in your social media contract is a great way for parents to keep their kids safe. Download the app or create an account for yourself and get familiar with the platform. Spend some time using the app so that you can determine whether or not it’s safe for your family.
- Consider rewarding positive behaviors. If your children prove to be respectful, responsible, and positive on social media, consider granting them more privileges.
- Include a yearly social media detox plan in the contract. Everyone (including adults) can benefit from deleting their social media apps from their phone for a week. This works wonders and helps students (and their parents) to see what it’s like without the apps, and they will approach their social media accounts differently when they get back on.
2. It’s important for kids to understand the long-term effects of using social media
Natalie Alleblas, Natalie Alleblas Digital Marketing
Kids aren’t mature enough to understand that what they share on social media today will be accessible in the future, and could have serious ramifications when applying for a job or meeting new people.
Parents need to create a social media contract that makes their kids aware of the long-term effects of using social media. Although kids need to be mindful when sharing on social media, parents need to show responsibility in monitoring their kids’ social media behavior.
When creating a social media contract, a clause for both kids and their parents ensures that both parties understand their obligations. Parents need to commit to enforcing what is outlined in the contract.
The contract should state that whatever is posted online stays there forever, even if the child deletes the content. The child needs to understand that anyone they come across in the future will be able to look up content that has been published in the past: future employers, neighbors, friends, teachers.
Parents should use simple, unambiguous language and check that their child understands all of the social media guidelines in the contract before signing it.
The contract should include a clause that the child understands that people with advanced technological skills can easily find photos, texts, and other content that has been deleted. Kids need to understand that their private messages can be copied and pasted elsewhere online without their knowledge or consent.
Parents need to include a clause that they will monitor their child’s social media use and will intervene if any of the contract clauses are violated.
3. Be involved in your child’s online actions
Joseph M. Yeager, Educator, Cyber Safety Advocate and Author
What’s more important than a social media contract is being involved with your child’s online actions –making sure that they know what a digital footprint is and what it means to them. Most kids don’t expect that their parents will be able to relate to what it’s like being a teenager and having to deal with social media (and they’re right). Today’s parents never experienced it.
A contract is only as helpful as the child’s desire to stay safe and not do anything online that can get them into trouble. Unless it’s taped to the wall by their computer and visible at every device they might use, it’s not going to help. Instead, kids need to see real examples of how their actions can get them into trouble, both physically and legally. More importantly, they need to know how their digital footprint might affect them years later.
Instead of getting your kids to sign a social media contract, get engaged in their online actions in a way that will get them to open up. Ask open ended questions that are harder for them to avoid by simply saying “No” to, effectively ending the conversation before it starts.
Whether you decide to create a family social media contract or not, it’s incredibly important for you to be involved in your child’s life on social media. While having a social media contract can help establish guidelines (and consequences for breaking those guidelines), that is only one piece of your family’s online safety puzzle. Parents must be vigilant about monitoring their kids on social media and having regular discussions about online safety. Because when you establish clear communication with your kids about social media, they will be more likely to come to you if something should occur.