When my daughter was born 12 years ago, iPads didn’t exist, and I had only recently, begrudgingly, purchased a flip phone. At the time, I never could have imagined how much of my parenting would revolve around smartphones, tablets, apps and social media.
Fast forward a dozen years and I’m locked in a battle with my tween over Tik Tok. Apparently, all her friends have it. It’s the same story with my nine-year-old and Fortnite. And my seven-year-old is making his way through Zelda on the Nintendo Switch we got them all for Christmas—a game that was supposed to be for his dad.
I’ve always been a bit unsure about how to manage the whole tech and screen-time thing. Strict time limits? Unlimited use with clear expectations on behaviour and responsibilities off-screen? Or maybe a work-to-earn system, whereby various household duties garner precious moments on a device?
The reality is we currently have a mish-mash of rules and some controls on their devices that generally work well, but when things start to feel out of control, I get tempted to ban all the screens, all the time.
What I like about the contract is that it assumes a certain level of trust and responsibility on the part of the kid—and it also asks a lot of the parents. For example, the child signs on “To be careful about sharing information about myself and others,” while the parent promises, “To ask before posting anything about you online, including photos or videos.” Bam. Privacy and consent, covered off. The kid also agrees to things like not sharing passwords, only visiting websites they think the parent would approve of, talking to an adult if they come across something that makes them uncomfortable, and not downloading apps or buying anything online without checking with a parent first.
But it was what it asks parents to agree to that really got me thinking about how I’ve been approaching screen time—especially my daughter’s phone use. As she’s started to communicate more and more with her friends through texting and What’s App, I’ve been tempted to keep a close watch on her communications. I’ll be honest, the horror stories I’ve heard about teenage girls, social media and online predators has me scared. But at the same time, I feel my daughter deserves some privacy, and I should ultimately trust her to make good decisions.
The MediaSmarts contract assumes from the outset that the kid will do the right thing. One of the things I have to agree to? “I promise not to spy on you online unless you’ve given me good reason to think I can’t trust you.” The contract also acknowledges that kids need our support: “I promise to be there to help you if you need me and to always listen.” And, it makes clear that kids deserve boundaries between us and their online social lives: “I promise not to post on any of your social network accounts without asking you first.”
As far as contracts go, this looks like one we can both abide by. Will she be allowed Tik Tok? That’s still to be determined. But at least she’ll know what the expectations are as we work on developing some healthy device use around the house.