by Larry Magid
Several years ago, my site SafeKids.com, developed a Family Contract for Online Safety and every few months I make sure it’s up-to-date. The idea of a contract, or series of pledges, is to get everyone in the family on board as to what it means to use today’s technologies safely and smartly. This includes understanding privacy, security and maintaining your reputation as well as some basic pointers about making sure you stay safe online.
There are now separate pledges for kids, teens and parents. The teens and kids pledges are different because one size doesn’t fit all. Rules or policies suitable for a 5-year-old don’t apply to 15-year-olds.
With very young kids, it’s important to focus on issues like “I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number,” etc. and it’s also a good idea to remind very young kids to “never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents” and to “check with my parents before downloading or installing software or doing anything that could possibly hurt our computer or jeopardize my family’s privacy.” Here’s the Kids Contract for Online Safety.
Different for teens
The teen pledge is very different because teens are very different from young kids. It starts out with “I will be respectful to myself and others. I won’t bully and won’t tolerate bullying by others” and concludes with “I will help create a culture of respect and tolerance at my school and among my peers.” ConnectSafely.org has lots of advice for teens and parents of teens, including “A Parents Guide to Facebook,” that I co-wrote with Anne Collier.
Parents need to agree to not overreact
The parents pledge starts with “I will get to know the services and websites my child uses. If I don’t know how to use them, I’ll get my child to show me how” and includes “I will not overreact if my child tells me about a problem he or she is having on the Internet. Instead, we’ll work together to try to solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.” Parents also pledge to “not to use a PC or the Internet as an electronic babysitter.”
Contracts to accompany technology gifts
A Platform for Good, which is a project of the Family Online Safety Institute, has recently published several online safety cards to accompany kid’s technology gifts. There are separate cards for tablets, gaming systems, cell phones and computers.
Conversations matters more than tips, rules and contracts
These contracts and cards are really conversation starters. Sure, you can sign them and post them by your PC or in a prominent place in the house, but the actual text of the contracts is far less important than the conversations you have with your kids. Talk with them frequently about how they are using technology to enhance their lives and ask them to talk with you about privacy and other issues. Consider asking their advice on how you can use the technology better and more safely. Your kids may know a lot more than you think they do and you may be a lot more patient and understanding than they give you credit for. Tips, rules and contracts are useful tools but they are not a substitute for two-way communication.