Managing Social Media – Parents’ Number One Challenge

Sexting, pornography, paedophiles and bullying.  Too often I find these issues impact teenagers way before parents are even aware of them.  That’s why I like to see parents educated and being proactive when it comes to keeping their kids safe online.  My first key point is this – When it comes to the internet…. Don’t set rules regarding social media use WHEN there is a problem. Set rules BEFORE there is a problem!

Most parents I know are faced with decisions about social media when their children are very young – in Year 6 and 7.  That is between age 10 and 12 years old.  When I teach Primary Sexual Health and Cyber Safety programs, over half of the class is already signed up on social media in Year 6, despite the legal age for most social media being 13.  By the time teenagers are 13 they are usually well and truly  immersed in the social of social media.

This is where the problem starts.  When your child is 10, 11 or even 12 they are relatively easy to manage.  It is therefore easy to say ‘yes’ to Facebook, Instagram, KIK or an iphone without spending a lot of time thinking about how you will manage it and what restrictions you might need to put on its use.

However, add a few years, a few more hormones, the desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend and a few friends you aren’t so keen on, and you may not say ‘yes’ so quickly.  Your ‘yes’ may come with a few more conditions, conditions which are hard to administer later if they haven’t been put in place from the beginning.

Consider this:  When your teenager first comes to you and wants to use social media, stop and really think about it.  You might think it is normal to let them jump into social media boots and all, but just stop and think about it for a little longer.  You don’t have to automatically say ‘yes’.  You might want to wait a while.  You might want to be cautious.  You might want to think about how to set social media up to make it safe during the bumpiest teenage years that lie ahead. When it comes to social media, I would prefer to start slowly rather than open the flood gates and not be able to control the torrent.

I recommend every family create a contract so both they and their teen (pre-teen) is clear about their responsibilities. 

I encourage families to write up a contract which outlines the expectations parents have of their teenager including time limits, shut down time, a day’s rest, passwords and privacy setting, risks, open communication and transparency, loss of privileges and safety software.

I also encourage parents to let their teenagers know that the contract isn’t a rigid representation of their relationship.  Parents should be free to parent, over and above the bounds of the contract, understanding that it is impossible write down every possible scenario that might take place in their relationship.

The contract you negotiate should represent you and your family’s values. Here are the basic things which you should negotiate in your contract…

  • Your role as a parent
  • The role social media will play and not play in their lives
  • The time you are prepared to set aside for social media
  • The need for re-charge time or shut down time at night
  • The need for a day’s rest
  • The loss of privileges
  • The need for transparency and open communication
  • The need for safety software
  • The risks you are concerned about – Bullying and behaving respectfully online, identity theft – protecting privacy and pornography and sexually explicit material

This is a sample contract which has been negotiated between a mother, father and a 13 year old girl who is reasonably responsible online. It covers all the basics that a family needs to cover when communicating about their teenager’s time online.  IT IS A SAMPLE ONLY.

Parents’ Agreement

  • I will set up all technology to ensure your safety and enable homework and family time to be a priority.  Your entertainment is a secondary issue.
  • I am never going to use the computer as an electronic babysitter.  When you are on the computer it is my job to be supervising you.
  • There are certain online risks that I am concerned about. These risks include exposure to pornography and sexually explicit material, sexual predators, identity theft and bullying. Because they are real risks I intent to talk to you about them often.
  • I own all technology and you have the privilege of using it.
  • I will put safety software in place in order to protect you and set up all program’s settings and passwords for your safety.
  • I will always need your passwords so I have full access to your accounts and programs.
  • I will conduct random checks on all technology and have the right to do so.  I will be checking for things like the types of friends / followers you have added and the types of photos you have posted.
  • I expect you to communicate with me if you come in contact with anything sexually inappropriate, if there is bullying or anyone is asking you for personal information you know you shouldn’t give out.
  • I expect 100% transparency and honest from you.  I will not tolerate you being dishonest with me. If you are it will result in a ban from the computer or phone until I decide otherwise.
  • I will try never to over react if you tell me about a problem you are having online, especially if it is about bullying or sex.  If you need a additional help we will seek our professional support.
  • The consequences for breaking this contract will be…

 Teenagers’ Agreement

  • My time on the internet will be limited to 2 hours per day and my mobile phone time between the hours of 8am and 8pm.
  • All electronic devises including my mobile phone and i-pod will be shut down at 8pm at night in my parent’s room.
  • When using electronic media and while online I will behave politely and show respect for others.  If I do not do this it will result it a ban of their use.
  • I will not change computer settings or passwords that my parents have set without asking permission first.
  • I will not give out my name, user name, passwords, emails, location, address, bank details, phone number, school, age or any of my personal details online.
  • I will ask before posting photos of myself online or adding friends.
  • I will never click on links in emails or open attachments from people I don’t know.
  • I will not enter competitions to win free thing nor will I buy things online which ask for private information such as my birth date, address or bank details,
  • I will never meet with anyone I have talked to online without getting my parents permission.
  • I will never download games, music, videos or install without my parents consent.
  • I willl not create new online profiles or accounts without my parents consent.
  • I will not look at pornography or sexually explicit material or content including images sent by friends. Neither will I respond to requests for sexually explicit images by friends. I will speak to my parents immediately if this happens.
  • I will talk to my parents if I ever feel uncomfortable or upset by something that happened online.
  • If I come across functions on new games or appts that my parents are not aware of (such as chat rooms) I will bring it to their attention.
  • I will engage in family activities and acknowledge this is an important time we set aside to connect as a family and I will put away technology during this time.
  • I will be 100% transparent in my activity online and understand that if I am not there are consequences that will be put in place.
  • I understand the consequences will be…

Signed _____________________________ (Mum)

Signed _____________________________ (Dad)

Signed _____________________________ (Teenager)

Date: _______________________________

This is a contract that I would suggest for younger teens who are initially setting up social media.  If you set rules before there is a problem (and stick to them) instead of after there is a problem, you are more likely to keep teenagers on track.  Remember that as teenagers mature they need to be given autonomy online so this contract may need to be negotiated if your teenager is over 15.

THANK YOU to everyone who has been passing these blog posts on, and for all your kind emails about their impact on your family.

What Teenage Girls Don’t Tell their Parents is available at www.michellemitchell.org  for $24.95 plus postage.

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