Rule Suggestions for Parents
Every parents wants to, and ultimately does, have control over their children’s level of online access. Like the other incremental responsibilities and freedoms we provide our children as they grow up, online education ideally starts early. Starting with complete physical restrictions of media use for children ages 0-2, and evolving into co-engagement, supervision and varying levels of constraints for children ages 3-16.
At a basic level, for very young children or those children experiencing difficulties resisting devices at all, co-engagement is the safest way for your child to participate online. Sitting with your child, viewing the same device and experiencing online activities with them in real time is ideal. Using technology with your child means you can talk about online experiences as they occur.
If your children are more fluent and more engaged online, supervision should be the next stage. This is as easy as making sure all use of technology is in view of a parent or children 3-6, or as complicated as ensuring that children are not alone or unsupervised with peers while playing online, for children ages 6-10.
Family Online Use Agreement
When your child is between 6-10 and is still leaning on you to understand technology, it is very important to put a Family Online Use Agreement in place. There are many benefits of knowing the rules for all parties—understanding the consequences for possible transgressions and having an open conversation about what both parties understand about online spaces. This is important particularly before children hit their pre-teens when hormones and peer-orientation become a stronger pull than parents’ influence.
The Family Online Use Agreement can include rules (or constraints) that are activity or context-based.
Easiest to obey and enforce for both parents and children are activity constraints—rules for specific online activities or apps. These might include not using social media apps until the age specified in Family Online Use Agreement, or playing age-appropriate games only. Age restrictions can be helpful external guidelines for parents to look to for age-appropriateness of apps and games. (See MediaSmarts, CommonSenseMedia or Graphite).
Contextual constraints—banning tech use in certain places and at certain times are the most troublesome for both parents and children to enforce but often required for families to have good on/offline life balance. No phone at the table, bedtimes and/or keeping devices out of children’s bedrooms can become consistent behaviour management issue, however these boundaries and constraints are important for healthy family media management.
Parents who are unable to manage a child that seems unable to manage their own online use, may want to investigate monitoring and app control software. These measures are sometimes necessary. Installing time and app monitoring software that can be the basis for family dialogue about online use, (Moment). Sharing a family iTunes or Google Play account can help you guide and supervise your child. These do require, however, that your child be cooperative in the process. If a trusting dialogue and respect for both parties’ boundaries can be maintained, then collaboration about technology use is ideal.
If that’s not an option however, locking down equipment can take the form of installing timers on your home router so the wifi network for the whole house shuts down at a certain time each night.
Sometimes seeking professional help is a really smart choice. Family dynamics that have been difficult before can easily become negatively exaggerated when online devices, apps and choices are added to the mix.