Setting Boundaries with Digital Natives

With conflicting information about the best way for parents to mediate their children’s use of personal devices it is reassuring that experts are promoting regular conversations within the family about online safety as being as effective, if not more so than rules and parental controls. 

Recent reports have found that the major concerns of parents are screen time rules and losing control over what content their children are watching on tablets. Parents appear reluctant to mediate teens’ media use as they trust their 12-15-year-olds to exercise their own judgement or they have expectations that schools are teaching them about being safe online. 

Polizzi and Gilchrist [2019] argue that as ‘viewing habits are shifting as young people increasingly move away from watching broadcast TV together on family TV sets towards a more individualised, solitary content-viewing via streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube. This limits the opportunities of parents to directly monitor what their children are watching and this gives them more control and choice of the content they are exposed to. The authors advise that ‘It’s more important than ever for parents to have regular and ongoing conversations with their children about online safety.’

Supervision of internet use by young people on tablets is becoming more difficult so parents are using a range of methods to mediate their children’s activities such as technical tools and filters or setting rules. Such rules usually focus on-screen time on smartphones and tablets which are difficult to enforce as children do ‘not consistently follow their parents’ rules to limit screen time.’ 

It’s not the hours spent online that matters but the quality of what they do online.

While it makes sense for parents to have more conversations with their children about being safe and responsible online it appears that many lack the confidence, experience and expertise to know what to talk about.

An effective strategy to help the family navigate and talk about online experiences is to develop a family media agreement together. It should outline the negotiated rules and guidelines that help the parents to mediate internet and device use and they are an effective way to begin conversations about internet safety and the consequences of them not being followed. 

What Is Included In A Family Media Agreement?

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 role in terms of what is included in a media agreement. Most importantly, there should be more ‘does’ than ‘don’ts’.

Be Web Smart suggests some behaviours that might be included in a media agreement.  It includes:

  1. How many hours a day can be spent using a computer, tablet, or playing video games?
  2. Are social media sites allowed – which ones?
  3. Are mobile devices allowed in bedrooms overnight?
  4. Are any particular websites off-limits?
  5. What information can be or shouldn’t be shared online?
  6. What should your child do if they encounter something scary online
  7. What happens if they break the rules?

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.

Robyn is the author of The Parents’ Guide to Children, Technology & the Internet.

Experts have referred to this book as ‘A must-read for any parent who cares about the wellbeing of their children’ and ‘The best online health and safety book on the market’.

After each chapter, there are ideas for Family Discussion Opportunities such as: 

Do you ever give yourself a break from your devices and social media?

How do you find the balance between physical activity and your screen time?

What does it mean to be safe online? 

How would you know if you were feeling unsafe? 

How do you decide which photos of yourself to share?

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