Raising digital citizens can be challenging for parents who grew up before the advent of social media, and it doesn’t help when a lot of the advice being given to parents is riddled with contradictions.
While having 24/7 access to the Internet has redefined the meaning of instant gratification for most knowledge seekers, being constantly flooded with endless content from different sources can make it incredibly hard to know where you stand.
While it’s wonderful to live in the information age, it’s not uncommon to suffer from information overload. If you’re a parent and you’re trying to establish cyber safety rules and regulations for your child, you may feel like every new piece of advice you get undermines the previous ones. In situations like this, all a parent can really do is go with their gut and follow the advice that sits best with them. After all, as a parent, you’re the best positioned to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for your child.
Yet here’s where the other curveball comes into play; what if your family’s cyber safety rules don’t align with those of another parent? And how can parents negotiate play dates when their policies on technology use vary greatly?
Socialisation, both on and offline, is a core component of a young person’s healthy development. It’s important to allow and encourage children to interact with other children, both academically and recreationally.
Play dates and slumber parties are fairly commonplace during childhood, and they’re an important rite of passage which can lead to independence and a greater awareness and tolerance of ‘otherness’. However, in the smartphone age, the rules of the average sleepover have become far more complicated than simply ‘no scary movies or sugar before bed’.
Many of us can likely remember having that one friend at school whose parents were more lenient than the others’. Perhaps they turned a blind eye to you watching restricted films? Or naively believed you when you lied and said your parents normally let you drink energy drinks? Maybe their laid back parenting style meant that they simply failed to notice that you were all off making prank calls from the landline?
Likewise, many of us can remember the friend whose parents were the most strict. The ones who made you sleep in separate rooms during a sleepover, depriving you of the quintessential mattress-on-the-floor and stay-up-giggling-all-night experience.
A certain degree of deviation in parenting styles is to be expected, and can normally be easily managed through communication and compromise. Yet, in the context of digital media, this discrepancy can become multi-layered and complex to negotiate.
Parents tend to have “differing levels of comfort and familiarity with new platforms” . Therefore, some parents may allow their child to join social media sites such as Instagram or Facebook before you’re even comfortable allowing your child to have access to a smartphone. This raises the question, whose responsibility is it to control media use on play dates?
“Discussing rules with other parents can feel like running through a minefield. No one wants to accidentally offend someone else or come across as being negligent or overly uptight.” - Erik Missio
Trying to enforce your own cyber safety rules without criticising or undermining other parents can be tricky, especially when they’re more strict or permissive about media use than you. This becomes especially difficult in the instance of a big slumber party, where each child in attendance may come bearing a vastly different set of cyber safety rules. You might think the best solution is to simply make every child surrender their phone for the night - but what if their parents insist that they have access to it in case of an emergency? Perhaps the better question here is; if your child is friends with children whose access to technology is quite liberal, should you fold or uphold your rules?
Interestingly, child psychologists warn parents that it’s not always wise to uphold your rules when you’re the odd one out in a situation. Not only can this lead to a sense of being socially rejected or ostracised, it can also create a ‘forbidden fruit’ relationship with technology, which may motivate your child to go to greater lengths to disobey your cyber safety rules without your knowledge . This makes it harder to protect them as they explore new platforms. If, for example, you don’t have any gaming consoles in your home, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should forbid your child from playing on them at a friend’s house. Instead, try to reach a compromise with the friend’s parents, whereby your child can only play educational, non-violent, age-appropriate games, for a specified period of time.
If your child is the only one in their group of friends who can’t access Instagram, you’ll be hard-pressed to keep them from scrolling through it on a friend’s phone. While it doesn’t seem fair that other parents’ rules should dictate what your child is exposed to, it’s also hard to expect other parents to accommodate your rules at all times, or to expect their children to not access certain apps while they’re around your child. This is where a middle-ground approach can be useful; perhaps your child’s friend’s can access Instagram in your home, but they can’t upload any photos depicting your child - and you reserve the right to follow their profile to check that they’re complying.
Never assume your rules are universal - talk to your child’s friend’s parents before scheduling a play date or sleepover so you can reach a compromise
Avoid having blanket rules which don’t allow for any leniency
Be specific about what is and isn't OK - even if you’re willing to compromise on certain things, it’s important to communicate your non-negotiable cyber safety rules
Have proactive conversations with other parents about how to respond to misbehaviour, covering instances where it’s your child who acts out, as well as if it’s theirs.
Don’t punish your child for accessing an app or playing a game at a friend’s house (with that friend’s parent’s permission)
Try to avoid being too rigid with digital activities that are popular among your child’s peers
1. Sue Shellenbarger, 2016. Your screen-time rules or mine?. The Wall Street Journal.
2. Erik Missio, 2015. When friends’ parents have different screen-time rules. CBC.
3. Sierra Filucci, 2014. How to tell relatives, teachers, babysitters, and even your spouse your screen time rules. Common Sense Media.