Many parents are seeking effective, empowering and inclusive ways to manage digital technologies with their family. Guidelines about the use of the Internet, digital devices and social media can support your child as they navigate online environments, and for the family to have conversations about what should be included, why and what the consequences will be if they are not followed.
This is substantiated by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) who stated that "children today are growing up in an era of highly personalised media use experiences, so parents are strongly encouraged to develop personalised media use plans for their children that attend to each child's age, health, temperament, and developmental stage."
Family media agreements are established rules and guidelines that help parents mediate internet and device use. It is a great way for parents to begin conversations with their children about internet safety and to decide on and communicate consequences from the start so there are no misunderstandings in the future.
Family media agreements are unique to each family, and sometimes each family member. This is because no two families are alike and the age of family members plays a big role in terms of what is included in a media agreement.
Your family media agreement may encompass any digital technology you choose, from computers, laptops and video games to tablets and mobile phones.
Be Web Smart suggests some behaviours that might be included in a media agreement. It includes:
How many hours a day can be spent using a computer, tablet, or playing video games?
Are social media sites allowed – which ones?
Are mobile devices allowed in bedrooms overnight?
Are any particular websites off-limits?
What information can be or shouldn’t be shared online?
What should your child do if they encounter something scary online
What happens if they break the rules?
What is extremely important with media agreements, however, is that they are framed in a way that reinforces positive online behaviours. This means saying “I will do…” rather than “I won’t do…” or “I can’t do…”. This gives children an insight into the behaviours that are considered respectful, responsible and safe as well as ensuring their commitment to their actions.
Introducing a media agreement depends on when technology starts being used in your home. Some families won’t see a need to create one until their children are using technology without supervision.
Another opportune time is when children go back-to-school because it’s here that children may be introduced to new technologies and devices. For instance, they may need to go online to complete or submit homework and assignments using tablets provided by the school. Another opportunity arises when new devices such as smartphones, eReaders and other mobile devices are introduced into the family.
It is important to note that the creation of a media agreement is not a ‘one-off’ event. Australia’s parenting website Raising Children promotes the idea that “rules will change as your children develop and your family’s situation changes. As children get older, for example, rules about privacy might become more important.” Because of this, it is important to revise your family’s media agreement on a regular basis.
To gain insights into what needs to be included or excluded in your child’s updated agreement, the most effective media agreements are collaborative, involving input from each family member, as this helps them to understand what the rules are and why they’re needed. This may bet be a bit of a challenge with teens as they are seeking more independence, and autonomy but it is important to still involve them in the process of creating and reinforcing the rules and their consequences.
The most important aspect of creating a media agreement is to talk ‘with’ and not ‘to’ your children. This reassures them that their views and ideas are valued and that you will not impose rules that may seem unreasonable.1. Listen First
The first step is to listen before brainstorming ideas together for the agreement, seek an understanding of how your child currently uses or would like to use digital media. You could talk about experiences, and whether they feel these are positive or uncomfortable. This encourages more meaningful engagement and gives greater insight into what your child is watching, listening to, or playing online.
2. Encourage thoughtful conversation
Invite each family member to think about their digital media habits at home — how, when and how often they engage with their devices or media more broadly. You can use this conversation to pave the way for a healthy dialogue about your family values around media, which will form the foundation for your family media agreement.
Finding resources to help you develop the media agreement range from age appropriate templates such as those provided by Common Sense Media or an interactive one such as The Smart Talk, which is a collaboration between the National Parent Teacher Association and LifeLock which aims to get “parents and kids together for a conversation about being responsible with new technologies.”
You might also find that the book The Parents’ Survival Guide to Children and Technology and the Internet which consolidates information, research and advice from over 300 leading international resources, will help equip you with more information about technology use and the ways to mitigate potential online risks.