A few years ago, our oldest son Ethan asked us if he could create an Instagram account. I believe he was nine at the time, and in an effort to put the subject matter off in the moment, I may have said, “When you’re 10.” It didn’t get brought up again.

Well, wouldn’t you know that within minutes of us showering him with Happy Birthdays and a special 10-year-old breakfast request, Ethan reminded me that I said he could get Instagram when he was 10. And here we were.

As someone who uses social media regularly in my everyday life, I felt like I needed to address the topic with him in a fair and balanced way. I stayed true to my word and allowed him to download Instagram to his iPod, but spent quite a bit of time helping him understand the benefits and risks of sharing online, whether in a private or public way.

We talked about general rules, things not to do, photos not to publish, etc., and I felt comfortable granting him that privilege. After all, Ethan was (and still is) quite mature for his age.

Once our second oldest, Aiden, caught wind, his eyes got big. “So I can get Instagram when I’m 10?” Now, Aiden is not quite as mature for his age as Ethan, but how can I say no to one and not the other? I left my response much more vague this time. “We’ll see,” I said.

And . . . here we are. On the eve of Aiden’s big double-digit birthday and guess what he’s been talking about all day? Instagram.

Our family is very “connected”. My kids have televisions in their bedrooms, iPads, Kindles, iPods. Basically as my husband Ricky and I have upgraded our devices, we’ve either passed our old ones down or at the very least kept them to give to the kids at some point down the line. My kids all know how to find their way around passwords and YouTube searches, and were pretty good at it even at the young age of three. 

While we have always made it clear that having this access to technology is a privilege, it started to become overwhelming setting and sticking to consistent rules surrounding time limits, parental controls and ensuring privacy. I did a little research last year and came across a device called Circle by Disney. It is a small box that we connect to our home wi-fi that allows me to take care of all of that in one place. I created a profile for each child, linked their individual devices to their account, and from there I have set bedtimes, usage times, restricted websites, games and apps, and am also able to access how they spend their time online. It has been a LIFE SAVER for my sanity—and has wreaked havoc on theirs. 

Tonight, with Aiden anxiously awaiting access to Instagram tomorrow, I knew I had to come up with a clear-cut way to communicate the rules for our household. I finally went back through all my saved posts on Pinterest on this very subject. There are so many great resources, examples of contracts, and suggestions for explaining the risks of being online to kids of all ages. 

I pieced ours together with what works for our family and thought I would share for anyone who may also be feeling the pressure of kids using technology and social media at younger and younger ages. 

OUR FAMILY TECHNOLOGY GUIDELINES

The device belongs to you. That means you take care of it and YOU are responsible for it at all times. If it breaks? You fix it. If you lose it? You buy a new one. If you let a friend play a game and they drop it and crack the screen? You deal with a cracked screen or shell out the money to repair it. With that said, the device can and will become OURS should you not follow these guidelines:

  1. PRIVACY:
    • You will set a lock screen passcode for your devices that allow it. Write it down and don’t forget it! Then provide that passcode to Mom and Dad.
    • You will keep track of all passwords for email, social media accounts and apps. All login information will be stored by mom and dad in case you forget. None of this information is to be given to anyone else—not even your best friend.
    • If, for whatever reason, you change your passwords and fail to update us, you will lose your device. Period. We will always know the password and we will always have access to your device upon request.
    • Not everything you read online or hear from friends is correct. If you have questions about subject matter that may result in inappropriate content online, ASK mom or dad. We will always have access to your search history and visited links. If we find that you have visited sites with inappropriate content, there will be consequences.
    • Do not post or share photos of friends or family without their permission. Not everyone wants to be online. Not everyone is ALLOWED to be online.
    • Do not send or ask someone else to send photos of any body parts. Ever.
    • Do not engage with any person whom you do not know personally.
    • Do not post or share personal information including my full name, address, phone number, school or other identifying information online unless discussed with Mom or Dad first (exceptions would be made in certain situations where the info is needed).
    • If you come across inappropriate content online—whether it was searched on purpose, sent to you by someone else or stumbled upon by accident—you will let us know.
    • You will tell us if something does not feel comfortable while online.
  2. MANNERS:
    • When using your device, use your manners at all times. If someone texts you, respond. If someone calls you, answer! Talking on FaceTime? Talk! Say hello! Have your clothes on. Say please and thank you. Don’t swear. No cuss words. Be respectful.
    • If Mom or Dad calls or texts, and you have possession of your device, YOU BETTER ANSWER/RESPOND. Failure to do so results in loss of your device.
    • Do not use this technology to lie, deceive, make fun of or fool another human being. Do not involve yourself or remain involved in group conversations that do any of the above. Be a good human. Do not say anything through a text or phone call on any device that you would not say in person. Do not text, email or say anything that you would not say in front of your mom or dad.
  3. APPS, GAMES + MUSIC:
    • You will only download apps and/or games that are approved by Mom and Dad. This includes (but is not limited to) social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, etc., and any games, music or movies that may be rated above your age limit.
    • You are not allowed to make in-app purchases unless okayed by Mom and Dad. Wasting money on gimmicks and game “upgrades” is silly. If you have iTunes credit, you may spend it as you wish, but once it is gone, it’s gone.
    • Unless given permission, all social media accounts will remain “private” and will not be made “public” at any time.
    • You are not allowed to communicate with strangers within apps through private messages, instant messages, texting, etc.
    • You will not watch or listen to content that is inappropriate. This includes music, movies and YouTube videos with foul language, adult content or other offensive material. If you stumble upon something that may get you in trouble, turn it off then let us know.
  4. USAGE:
    • Unless you have specific permission otherwise, you will turn off/silence and put away your device when in public or during face-to-face conversation.
    • Your device will not be allowed at the table while eating meals. That includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
    • On school nights, your devices are not to be used after 9 p.m. That includes iPads, iPods and computers. Televisions and Amazon Echos have different rules that may vary.
    • Devices should be charging and unused from 9 p.m. on. They may stay in your room to charge, but if I see activity after 9 p.m., it will need to be turned in to Mom and Dad’s room each night at 9 p.m. going forward.
    • If you forget to charge your device overnight and want/need to use it the next day . . . too bad. Plug it in and wait!
    • Weekend rules may vary also (depending on your behavior and our moods).

You will mess up. We will take your devices away. We will sit down and talk about it and we will start again. We are in this together. And every single one of these guidelines is what is best for you even if you don’t understand or agree with them. It is our hope that you take the above guidelines seriously and follow these terms as they are written. Technology is a fun and exciting thing when used appropriately and safely. But it is a privilege and it is our job as your parents to make sure it is not abused.

We love you so so much!
Mom + Dad

Originally published on the author’s blog

Taryn Skees

Taryn is a mom of four boys, one with a rare genetic condition called Apert syndrome. She calls herself the “coordinator of chaos” as she juggles parenting, running a nonprofit (apertOWL.org) and writing, and yet, she wouldn’t have it any other way.