We want to raise smart, capable children who grow into smart, capable adults. So the sooner we can give them the tools they need to be responsible and self-sufficient — the better.
One way to do this is by creating an agreement about how they’ll use social media. You want to have rules to keep them safe online and that encourage responsible posting, snapping, and ‘gramming. You’re likely to want to limit their usage a bit.
Here’s why you need to create a social media agreement — and get it in writing.
1.) Kids needs rules. They want boundaries to bump up against as they grow up and engage in all the digital and social aspects of life. Our children should know what kind of behavior we expect from them. And more importantly, they should understand we set certain rules for them in the first place.
2.) Kids need to understand how to evaluate decisions based on consequences. Your social media agreement will give them some background about how to understand when situations are dangerous, both online and in real life. They’ll be able to use these risk-assessment skills in the future when they’re on their own. For instance, no chatting with creeps on the internet or in dark corners, and no revealing your location to strangers online inadvertently (hello, geotags).
3.) Kids need to ask questions and stand up for themselves. Having an agreement like this allows our kids to challenge us if they don’t think something is fair or relevant or necessary. We want our children to engage in that back-and-forth conversation with us. We’re raising our kids to be adults, not robots.
4.) Kids need to develop leadership skills. Agreements that involve discussions and negotiations are a great way to develop leadership skills and confidence in both boys and girls. Want your kid to be a lawyer or a business mogul? Well, a great way to develop the foundations for these sorts of successful futures is to give them the knowledge and freedom to voice their opinions. Show them that if they state how they feel in a logical and engaging manner, other people will listen.
5.) Kids need to develop deeper thinking on big issues. You and your child get to have conversations about the “why” behind the rules. For instance, a social media agreement is a great platform for discussing why having a smartphone in their bedroom at night isn’t the best for their growing nervous systems.
Where to start. If any of these reasons has you convinced to sit down and hash out social media rules with your child right away, then lucky you. Once you do, you’ll have a template for your family. Choose which rules you need based on the age of your children, their needs, and your own expectations when it comes to setting boundaries. Create a separate agreement for each child if you like, but make sure it feels fair to everyone.
Things to consider. Ask your kids to consider creating some self-imposed standards for what they post online. Have them think about some of these things before posting, and let them consider whether social media is even the best use of their time.
Then discuss a few of the following questions about posting, snapping, and ‘gramming that you’d like them to think about beforehand:
- Would they want their grandmother to see that scandalous photo or comment?
- Would they say those things in real life?
- Would they be proud of that post if somebody showed it to them in 10 years?
- Is that theirs to share with others?
- Would they be happy if somebody took a screenshot of that?
- Are they spreading gossip or hurtful things?
- Are they gaining anything from being online, or are they just distracting themselves from something else?
- What could they be doing that’s a better use of their time?
Based on their answers, create a few rules that set expectations for their behavior on social media and add them to the contract. And then, most importantly, be willing to change the contract, edit it, and let it evolve with your kids.
A crucial aspect of this agreement is that it’s negotiable — and everyone’s opinions matter. Tell your kids that you can revisit the agreement every month or so. If they have thoughts on how it should change, have them write them down (in iPhone Notes or on a piece of paper). At the end of each month, sit down together and talk about them.
Let them make the case for why things should change, and be willing to listen.
The end product should be something everybody thinks is reasonable — and serves a positive purpose in your life and theirs.
Laurie Wolk is an educator, a mother, and a writer based in Westchester County, New York.