Education, Family Travel

How to Design a Family Digital Citizenship Contract

by Christa Melnyk Hines

We raise our kids to be polite and respectful in person, so why wouldn’t we stress those same values in the online environment?

A digital citizenship contract can help you spell out your expectations of appropriate online behavior and send a clear message about how seriously you take your child’s safety and online reputation. 

Involve your kids in the process of outlining the contract to start a family dialogue about issues that can come up. Here’s a checklist of points to cover in your contract:

Treat others with dignity and respect. In other words, treat people the same way you wish to be treated, just like in person. Unacceptable behavior includes: posting/texting cruel remarks, gossiping, bullying, using profanity or impersonating others.

Think before you post. Teenagers are all about instant gratification. They aren’t necessarily thinking about the long-term effects of what they post. Remind your kids to ask themselves questions like: ‘Would I want Mom or Dad to see this?’ or ‘Would I be embarrassed if everyone in school saw it?’

Show empathy. Explain that when they forward or share photos/texts/video that are harmful to a peer, they inadvertently condone cyberbullying. Also, steer clear of mean-spirited chat rooms where anonymous members dish up snarky, cruel comments for entertainment.

Ask permission. Before logging into someone’s personal device, ask first and then log back off of the device when finished. Before downloading an app, tell your child that he needs to discuss it with you first.

Personal accountability matters. Errors of judgment happen and kids are still learning. Immediately address the situation together, whether they need to craft an apology or remove a comment or photo.

Don’t talk to strangers. Some free texting and gaming apps permit members to connect with other members even if they aren’t “friends.” Emphasize that exchanging text messages with someone they don’t know is the same as talking with a stranger. Often kids don’t view texting and talking in the same light.

Guard personal information. Avoid posting personal information in response to unknown individuals in a chat room or a public forum like: Email address (don’t use your email as a user name), home address, social security number, school name, birthday with year, photos with geotags (switch off the camera’s location tag under privacy settings).

Assume everything posted is public. Texts, images and posts can be saved and shared. Mine the latest news, TV shows and other media for examples that can lead to conversation and empathy-building opportunities. Kids are generally more open to discussing mistakes made by people outside of their immediate circle of friends.

Ignore attacks. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, one in three students has experienced cyberbullying. Tell your kids to let you or another trusted adult know if someone bullies them. Reacting or retaliating generally adds fuel to the fire. 

If the bullying continues, your child can politely ask the person to stop; report the behavior to the content provider; and/or block the individual. Preserve the evidence and contact law enforcement if your child feels scared or threatened.

Establish boundaries. Declare certain times of the day, the car or areas of the house as no-phone/no-device zones. At the end of the day, power down and store electronic devices in a central location of your home.

Disconnecting periodically allows for more opportunities to connect as a family, engage in creative pursuits, get adequate sleep and complete homework and chores.

Stress that privacy is earned. Because you are ultimately responsible for your child’s behavior whether online or off, have access to all passwords, check their phones and visit the apps/social media networks they frequent regularly. 

Pledge not to text and drive. Finally, if your child is of driving age, include a pledge on your contract that states a promise that he will not text and drive. Consider watching the 30-minute documentary by Werner Herzog together called “From One Second to the Next” on YouTube.

Clearly state consequences. Consequences could include loss of devices, screen time (except for required school work) and driving privileges. 

Sign here. After your child signs the commitment, hang it up near your computer or on your refrigerator as a family reminder. Review and adjust as needed.

For a copy of a Digital Citizenship Contract kids 10 and under, click here

For Digital Citizenship Contract for teens, click here.

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