Daylight savings: Time to review your Family Terms of Service

Today is daylight savings time and many people take this opportunity to also check the batteries in their smoke detectors or change the air filter in their furnaces.  It might also be a good time to review your Family Terms of Service with your kids.  Each year kids grow and these terms should be updated too.  With the holidays coming up it is a great time to talk about some of these things before kids gleefully unwrap the latest and greatest gadget of the season.

This last week we received a letter from a parent who was preparing to give their 13 year old a new iPod iTouch but they wanted to know about keeping their kids safe.  Having a conversation about your Family Terms of Service now will prevent several confrontations in the future.  It’s a much easier conversation to have than you might imagine.  It is not 100% and doesn’t always work but if you have these terms laid out for your teen before they even turn on a gadget then it will be so much easier to impose the natural consequences if needed than if you never had this conversation at all.

Here is the letter we received:

Hi Mary – I’m getting my 13 year old an ipod touch, but am concerned about internet access. We use NetNanny on his desktop computer, and I see that there is an internet filtered app for the ipod that might do the same thing. What is your Wired Mom take on how to protect our kids here?

Sincerely, Concerned Parent

Hi Concerned Parent,

Thanks for asking! There are two very important things that we recommend here especially with a new teen. This is a pretty big deal getting an iPod Touch (my 15 year old has one and it has been a lifesaver for us on many occassions so I am actually all for the device).

1. The main thing here is to start out with a Family Terms of Service (TOS).

Facebook has a terms of service and most other social networking websites have a TOS. What you do is sit down with your teen and in advance of even turning the machine on decide what your Family Terms of Service are going to be and what the consequences are going to be if those terms are broken.

Some things people include in their TOS are:

  • school work vs. iPod Touch/gadget use. If grades begin to slip are you going to ground your kid from using the iTouch/gadget or not.
  • Using the iTouch when Granny is visiting – human interaction is a requirement for being able to use this gadget.
  • Chores – are they getting their chores done?
  • What sites are ok for them to visit and which ones are not.
  • Include in the family TOS that parents have access to the teen’s passwords for all of their social sites and their iTouch
  • What other activities are important to your family?

This might sound like a lot and big conversation but it is really made much more productive if you get your teenager to talk about the rules and the consequences for breaking the rules. If the teen is included in this conversation 3 things are likely to happen

  • Consequences are much easier to impose.
  • Kids are more likely to take their responsibility more serious.
  • The consequences the kids come up with are often more harsh than the ones the parents might suggest

OK Now there is a second recommendation that is pretty much non-negotiable around here and that is

2. No sleeping with their iTouch

We have a docking station in the living room where everyone can charge their phones and gadgets and they get plugged in at night.

There is no reason for a kid to take the Internet to bed with them. Studies have shown that kids do much better in school when they have a full nights sleep.

So – Short answer is

1. Family TOS
2. No sleeping with the Internet

The main thing is to talk with your kiddo – let them know there was no such thing as the Internet when we were growing up and that social media is really less than 10 years old. So, it’s all new. Everything that happens online happens really quickly and when things get posted they are public and permanent. You are on their side and will Fiercely watch out for them and do everything you can to protect them from getting into something they are not ready for – or something that none of us have even anticipated yet. We are all learning these new rules together. Also, that as your teen grows up and demonstrates more responsibility then the Family Terms of Service will be modified to reflect that.

Good kids can get in big trouble really quickly with this new technology. My son – who is now 20 – has a friend who is one of the goofiest kids you will ever meet. He got a cell phone when he was 14 and girls from another state started sending him topless photos of themselves. I know this because I knew all my sons parents and they knew I check cell phones and so on occassion I would ask the boys what they had on their cell phone photo file and in their text message history. With my kids, the rule has always been that as long as I am paying for the cell phone I have full access to look at anything at any time. Once my boys reached 18 I told them that they could start paying for their own phones and I wouldn’t check them anymore – they both told me that it was ok – I could keep checking.

If your teen gets something sent to them that makes them uncomfortable they should know that they can come to you and talk to you about it and there is not going to be any repercussions – the best thing to do is delete it as quickly as possible and block whoever is sending that inappropriate material.

The big thing for you is to remember to NEVER freak out when your kid does come to you. If you freak out they will not come to you again. Do your very very best to just listen and if you don’t know what to do then take a few minutes – tell him you have to go to the bathroom and will be right back – then go into the bathroom and do a silent scream and come back when you can be cool again.

Another thing we did when our teens started getting handheld gadgets with Internet connection was to start a family tradition of Friday night family movie night and we started having YouTube nights – instead of renting a movie we would have everyone in the family show each other their favorite YouTube video for that week. This can be very enlightening and give you great insight into what your kid is searching up on YouTube but then you also get a chance to show them your favorites.  It is a great non threatening way to check up on their Internet habits while building trust and get into great conversations at the same time – its win win win all the way around.

Good Luck and Happy Parenting!

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