In my previous column, I examined the legality of parents monitoring their kids’ electronic communications. After I submitted the article, I realized I’d addressed the subject in the wrong order. Parenting, much like our legal system, is founded on three basic steps: 1) establish rules, 2) monitor compliance, and 3) modify non-compliant behavior. In my last article, I jumped to monitoring compliance and skipped right over establishing rules. We should make clear to our kids what is acceptable use of electronics. You can’t be upset with your kid for creating an Instagram account if you never told her she shouldn’t.
We can learn about setting expectations and rule making from what goes on at work. Every corporation has (or should have) an Electronic Use Policy. You sign a document or click on a link when you join a company saying that you have read the policy and will abide by it. You acknowledge that the company may access and monitor your use of its network and devices and non-compliance will result in discipline, up to and including termination. We can’t fire our kids, so forget that part. But expectation setting when it comes to electronic use is critical for family harmony.
Rolling out a home Electronic Use Policy starts with an inventory of accounts and passwords. Ease into it. I explained to my tween that I’d like to sit down with her and take a look at what accounts she has, what pictures she posted, and get her usernames and passwords organized so they aren’t forgotten.
She didn’t like the sound of this account review so I explained the purpose wasn’t to shut down her Google+ and other accounts. Instead, my goal was to target problem pictures and posts as well as over sharing of personal information. She still didn’t like it but did seem to relax a bit. We set a time to go over it all that night. She stalled for two days, and I didn’t make a big deal about it. Finally, with no excuses left for delay, we went over her information and pictures.
An interesting thing happened during those two days between when I told her I wanted to sit down and the day we actually did. I’d seen her public Instagram profile that gave her name, age and where she went to school, i.e. way too much information. I didn’t tell her I had seen this information, planning to use it as an example of over sharing. By the time we sat down, all that personal information was hidden and the security settings were locked tight on who could view pictures. The take away with your kids is the same as with adults, we are all lazy and need a push to do things correctly. Setting expectations and monitoring provides that push. Knowing what to do is different from doing it.
The sit down proceeded well. We made sure usernames and passwords were kept in a safe place accessible by both of us. The pictures were all of an appropriate nature. And we commented together on posts by others that we felt were not in good taste and would not be acceptable in our home. With a baseline of proper behavior set, we proceeded to the home version of an Electronic Use Policy. This step is optional but recommended. Kids sign these sorts of documents in school for teachers who want an agreement about attendance and homework completion. They also sign them with sports teams about time commitment and presence and games. Why not in the home?
We went through each item to make sure there was no misunderstanding. For the lawyers in the room, a contract with your minor kid is not enforceable. It’s just a way to set expectations and hold someone morally accountable. She signed and handed it back to me. I asked her to keep it in her desk so she could look back on it in times of indecision.
For those interested in following the same course, I’ve included our home Electronic Use Policy below. Enjoy.
Electronics Use Agreement
I, _________________, will not without checking with my parents first:
1. Agree to any legal terms and conditions
2. Create any mail, IM, Apple ID, social media, shopping, text or other on-line account
3. Create a new password
4. Password protect any device
5. Have any devices on the second floor of our home
6. Provide any less than full sharing on any social media with my parents
7. Download any app
8. I will not use technology to lie, fool, or deceive another person.
9. My parents may access any of my electronic accounts and their content.
10. I will not involve myself in conversations that are hurtful to others.
11. I will not text, email, or say anything through my devices I would not say in person or with their parents in the room.
12. I will not send or receive pictures of my or another’s private parts. I understand it is risky, could ruin my teenage/college/adult life, and will never ever ever go away. It is impossible to make anything of this magnitude disappear — including a bad reputation.
13. I will always remember my passwords and will provide them to my parents.
14. I will never ignore a call from my mother or father.
15. I will not enable or disable any settings on my device without my parents’ permission. (for example GPS)
16. If any device is damaged, I am responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.
17. I will not live life through my devices. I will experience the world around me.
I understand that violating any of these (except 17 that is a recommendation) will result in the loss of all devices as well as other unhappy things.
Agreed to by: