Last year I posted an article for us on developing a Facebook contract for teens. Being that we have one, we didn’t just want to open the floodgates and give her free reign. We’ve talked to some parents who have different types of ways to accomplish this. As we began tackling this, I dove into some research on similar types of deals with cell phones.
I remember when Grace was in third grade, one of her classmates came to school with a bedazzled Blackberry. And so it began. What do we do with cell phones? When would she need one? How would we address responsibility and empowerment? We didn’t need a cell phone when we were in school. Why now?
We decided when Grace turned 15, we would find a service with some parental controls to teach her responsible use. After lots of searching, I found a company called Kajeet. It uses the Sprint network and has parental controls at the network level. They’re simple and work well. After over a year, I’d recommend this service for first timers looking for something simple, safe, and no contract. You can customize the way the network is setup based on each phone. For instance, you can decide what numbers work, what times of the day they work (inactive during school hours or after a certain time at night), and students can earn points towards minutes using a wallet system. Find out more at www.kajeet.com
Our Custom Contract
Similarly to our Facebook contract, I created a cell phone contract as well. Being that there is no long-term contract to sign, I decided to create one based on a lot of Google searches on what other parents are trying to do. You can download the PDF, Pages, and Word versions.
I’m a parent of an amazing teen. I acknowledge that growing up as a teen today is 1000 times harder than when my shadow dawned the hallways of high school. Social media, specifically Facebook, has changed the way high school students connect. A lot has been written about social media and how to manage it. The challenge for us as parents is that our kids are learning it at the same time as we are and adopting at a faster rate. It’s hard to keep up. As we compare notes as parents on how we can lead through this season, there are obviously many different strategies in use from giving their kids complete autonomy to not having Internet at home.
Question: How do I balance accountability with empowerment as a parent?
Believe me, I’ll never be on the “parent of the year” list. Heck, I’ll probably never even be on the “parent of the second” list. But I am trying. I’m failing sometimes and succeeding others. One thing I learned in my reading and research to find the balance is to invite your student into responsibility and accountability. In our home, we’ve used contracts as a tool for this.
Facebook’s policy states that you have to be 13 years old before you can have an account. We decided as a family that we’d wait until our daughter was 14 to have a Facebook account. She was one of the last of her peers to the party. A Facebook account was part of her birthday present. She was very excited. We presented a contract to her wrapped in a box. Then we went through each bullet point, line by line. We explained to her that having a Facebook account is a privilege, not a right. We asked her if the terms on the contract were reasonable. Of course she said yes and signed it. My wife and I signed it as well to commit to our end of the contract. Then we went over to our iMac which is in our living room and setup an account. It was a very fun day.
Since then we’ve monitored her interactions on Facebook and brought conversation back to the contract. It’s a great resource to have in order to keep things less emotional and more factual. As with any tool as powerful as Facebook, there have been some bumps in the road. There have been violations of the contract. And there have been penalties as a result.
I’m going to post three or four resources on the tools we are using with varying degrees of success. This week I’m attaching our Family Facebook Contract. A number of people have asked for it and I’ve emailed it. Feel free to download it, change it up, and make it your own. I pulled this together from a variety of other parent contracts and ideas online. Post comments if you find it helpful or frustrating.
Making an Effort
I wonder if we should be having more conversation around how we can be healthy online and model that for our kids. Just trusting our kids to make good decisions is lazy parenting. As parents, we’re not called to be our kids best friend. Heck, we’re not called to even be their friend at all. We’re called to “train up a child in the way they should go”. We’re not called to keep up with the joneses or stay out of the way for the fear that they’ll not like us. Parenting isn’t a popularity contest. And with all of this noise, it’s up to us to fight against it and find a balance. It’s something I haven’t found yet. But I’m at least aiming for it.