Parents frequently ask about the best way to manage their children’s internet and social media use. How much time should they spend on Facebook? Can a 10 year old have their own email address? Is it okay to check their Instagram feed? There’s really no right answer to these questions, much to parents’ dismay. The research in the area of children and teen internet and social media use is relatively small and without consensus. However, one tactic that has been shown to be effective at managing online time and promoting safety is also a tried-and-true parenting technique:
Talk to your kids about their media use and explain the consequences of different actions. Research supports that parents who used a discussion-based style of parenting decreased some risk-taking behaviors in adolescents while parents who used control-based parenting styles reported an increase in online risk-taking behaviors. This falls very much in line with long-standing psychological research on parenting styles. The two styles reflected above are Authoritarian and Authoritative. Permissive is another style, but a permissive parent probably wouldn’t be taking time to research how best to manage their children’s digital media use. Authoritarian parents believe in the motto, “my way or the highway” or “do as I say, not as I do.”
They value obedience to higher authority as a virtue unto itself. Authoritarian parents see their primary job to be bending the will of the child to that of authority – the parent, the church, the teacher. – Darling, 2014
Authoritative parents value structure, boundaries, and rules as well, but unlike the Authoritarian parent, Authoritative parents explain, discuss, and respect the child as a unique individual.
Most importantly, they try to balance the responsibility of the child to conform to the needs and demands of others with the rights of the child to be respected and have their own needs met. – Darling, 2014
So parents who use methods based on explanation, understanding, and flexibility have better results than those who are unyielding. Hopefully parents can find comfort in the fact that, despite the rapidly changing world of digital media, the best parenting practices of the digital age mirror traditional parenting best practices.
One way to start the conversation about internet and social networking use are through contracts. The nice thing about a contract is that it lays everything out there – what is expected of the child, what is expected of the parent, what is permissible and what is not, and the consequences of violating the rules. These contracts are most effective when filled out collaboratively, with both parents and children allowed to provide input, share preferences, and establish guidelines. A child will be much more willing to abide by the rules when 1) they know what the rules are, 2) they understand the consequences of breaking the rules, and 3) feel they’ve had input in making the rules and the consequences. Below are some examples of such contracts.
Personally, I’d like to see one that is targeted at both adults and children. For example, if a “no phones at the dinner table” is a rule for the child, it should also apply to the parent. Remember, do as I say not as I do is a tactic from the Authoritarian style. Should a parent break the rule, they should be held accountable. This helps to instill a sense of fairness and justice, and that no one is above the rules.