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We raise our kids to be polite and respectful in person so why wouldn’t we stress those same values online? A digital citizenship contract can help you spell out your expectations of appropriate online behavior and send a clear message about how seriously you take your child’s safety and online reputation.
Involve your kids in the process and discuss issues that can arise. Here’s a checklist of points to cover in your contract:
Treat others with dignity and respect. In other words, treat people the same way you wish to be treated. Unacceptable behavior includes:
- Posting/texting cruel remarks
- Using profanity
- Impersonating others
Think before you post. “Teenagers are all about instant gratification,” notes Sarah Manriquez, a licensed clinical social worker. “They aren’t necessarily thinking: ‘Well, if I do this, how is this going to affect the other person? How’s this going to affect my life in the future?’” Remind your kids to consider, “Would I want mom or dad to see this? Would I be embarrassed if friends at school saw it?”
Show empathy. Explain that when they forward or share photos/texts/video that are harmful to a peer, they inadvertently condone cyber-bullying. Also, steer clear of mean-spirited chat rooms where anonymous members dish up snarky, cruel comments for entertainment.
Ask permission. Before logging into someone’s personal device, ask first and then log back off of the device when finished. Before downloading an app, tell your child he needs to discuss it with you first.
Personal accountability matters. Errors of judgment happen as kids are still learning about boundaries. Immediately address the situation together, determine whether they need to craft an apology or remove a comment or photo.
Don’t talk to strangers. Some free texting and gaming apps permit members to connect with others even if they aren’t “friends.” Emphasize that exchanging text messages with someone they don’t know is the same as talking to a stranger. Often, kids don’t view texting and talking in the same light.
- Guard personal information. Avoid posting personal information in response to unknown individuals in a chat room or a public forum.
- Email address (don’t use your email as a user name)
- Home address
- Social security number
- School name
- Birthday with year
- Photos with geotags (switch off the camera’s location tag under privacy settings)
Assume everything posted is public. Texts, images, and posts can be saved and shared. Review the latest news, TV shows, and other media for examples that can lead to conversation and empathy-building opportunities. Kids are generally more open to discussing mistakes made by people outside of their immediate circle of friends.
Ignore attacks. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, one in three students has experienced cyber-bullying. Tell your kids to let you or another trusted adult know if someone bullies them. Reacting or retaliating generally adds fuel to the fire.
If the bullying continues, your child can politely ask the person to stop, report the behavior to the content provider, and/or block the individual. Preserve the evidence and contact law enforcement if your child feels scared or threatened.
Check out Thatsnotcool.com, a site geared for kids that features scenarios and text responses to help kids manage cyber-bullying, dating violence, and awkward peer situations, like password requests and gossip.
Establish boundaries. Declare certain times of the day, the car, or areas of the house as no-phone/no-device zones. At day’s end, power down and store electronic devices in a central location of your home. Start this habit early.
Disconnecting periodically allows for more opportunities to connect as a family, engage in creative pursuits, get adequate sleep, and complete homework and chores. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 72 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 17 have electronic devices in their rooms. Blame the blue light or incoming message alerts, but kids sleep less if electronic devices are left on, losing up to one hour of sleep a night.
Stress that privacy is earned. Because you are ultimately responsible for your child’s behavior, whether online or off, have access to all passwords, check their phones, and visit the apps/social media networks they frequent regularly.
Pledge not to text and drive. Finally, if your child is of driving age, include a pledge on your contract that includes a promise that he will not text and drive. Consider watching the 30-minute documentary, From One Second to the Next by Werner Herzog, on YouTube together.
Clearly state consequences. Consequences include loss of devices, screen time (except for required school work), and driving privileges.
Sign here. After your child signs the commitment, hang it up near your computer or on your refrigerator as family reminder. Review and adjust as needed.
For more ideas about creating a family digital citizenship contract, visit Safekids.com. Additional online resources, include CommonSenseMedia.org and ConnectSafely.com
Freelance writer Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two young technology junkies. Christa’s latest book Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World, is available on Amazon.