One of my top tips for parents on how to manage and guide their family’s technology use is building a family phone contract. I am not talking about a list of rules. Kids will mindlessly sign anything to have that phone in their hands. I am talking about sitting down together and building a contract. By taking the time to create one together, parents can see what their child already knows and where there are some gaps in knowledge. This is a chance for everyone to share their ideas, their expectations as well as outline consequences. These contracts do not need to include every possible thing they may encounter from now until they graduate. It is important to focus on the now and update the contract every years as they grow and their use changes and they show they are reasonable.
Recently, I updated my contract and included some ideas for getting the digital conversation rolling. Below is my updated template for a phone contract 2015 and check out these other great contracts as well.
Kids love online games and many games allow players to message one another. In both, Trivia Crack and Clash of Clans, kids can send messages back and forth just like texting. Recently, I received a question about turning this feature off in Clash of Clans. On most games, players cannot turn off messaging but some allow players to hide chat, block players and report inappropriate messages.
Q: How can I disable chat on clash of clans?
A: The short answer is you cannot. The chat window is initially closed and off to the left of the screen. When your child is playing Clash of Clans, they can open the chat window and chat with any player on global chat or just with their clan on Clan Chat. Global Chat and Clan Chat are different. Every player can access Global Chat and it is moderated. Here, comments are filtered to remove offensive language and they can report or mute players who post inappropriate messages.
In Clan Chat, it is up to the clan leaders whether the chat is moderated or has any restrictions. Clash of Clans is for players over 13 and adults do play this game. Depending on the clan, kids can expect to see swearing and some trash talking among clan members. Some clans do have rules of conduct and will kick members out who violate them. These clans usually require approval before a player can join.
To eliminate clan chat, players can choose not to join a clan. Without a clan, they can still play but will be unable to join forces with other players to launch clan wars and share resources. Another alternative is to form their own clan and play with friends. Remember, friends can also share inappropriate messages. If they are playing with friends, parents should talk to them about setting ground rules for messaging each other.
This week, headlines about sexting flooded my dash. This was hardly the first time I had seen headlines about teens sexting, but this headline had me worried. A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that a significant number of adolescents between ages 12 and 14 sext, and that these children are more likely to kiss, have oral sex or sexual intercourse than their counterparts who did not send such explicit messages. After seeing these headlines and having a mild panic attack, I searched the Pediatric Journal’s website. I found the study- Sexting and Sexual Behavior in At-Risk Adolescents. Fortunately for us middle school parents the headlines were not entirely accurate.
It turns out that the study did not just examine the sexting behaviors of seventh graders, but rather the sexting behaviors of “at risk” seventh-graders. The 420 students were selected, not because they represented your typical seventh grader, but because of behavioral or emotional problems. Of this group, 22% of the students said they engaged in sexting with 17% sending texts only and 5% sending texts and photos. What the researchers concluded was that emotional and behavioral symptoms on which this sample was selected may increase the likelihood that early teenagers will engage in sexting. These kids who had sexted were 4-7 times more likely to have engage in offline sexual activities. The authors noted that these results may not generalize to all middle school students.
With headlines pronouncing an epidemic of teen sexting, it is easy to feel sexting is just part of teen culture. But, even the scariest studies find that most teens do not sext. Headlines declaring an epidemic do more harm than good. It is natural for teens to look toward their peers. This is part of growing up and becoming an independent-thinking adult. Why tell a group that is heavily influenced by their peers that everyone is doing it. Headlines should declare, “majority of teens do not send inappropriate texts or pictures” or perhaps “sexting not the norm”.
Now, a lack of an epidemic does not get parents off the hook for the sexting talk. Parents should talk about sexting beginning in early adolescence. Even if most likely they won’t sext, they could be the one that does. Even if they don’t, they may receive an inappropriate picture or pressure someone to send one. It is important that kids realize healthy relationships are positive both on and offline.
To help parents, Amy Lang, fromBirds+Bees+Kids, created an excellent script on how to talk about sexting. The sex talk is not the most comfortable conversation to have or initiate with your teen. Starting your talk early with sexting may be an easier way to transition to the big sex talk later.
For the last 10 years, Homeland Security in partnership with other government agencies has declared October National CyberSecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM). During this month, nonprofits, business, government and individuals join together to share how people can protect their devices and information in the digital world.
For kids and teens, the best security is teaching them to recognize potential trouble. Some of the ways, cybercriminals trick people appeal to both teens and kids. They should be cautious when clicking on links in messages, searching popular celebrities or downloading free stuff. These popular activities could lead to a nasty virus if they are not careful.
Clicking on Links in Messages
This is a direct message I received from Twitter. On Facebook, users may receive a similar message about being tagged in a Facebook post. Clicking these type of links may land a person on a site prompting them to download a feature to see the picture. Unfortunately, downloading this feature may allow thieves to access everything stored in the browser, including accounts with saved passwords.
I will admit that when our eldest got a phone we did not think too deeply about it. She was babysitting and participating in more after school activities and we wanted her to be able to contact us. We knew she would use it to text her friends, but we didn’t think that was a big deal. Now a few years a later, we have another child entering middle school and this time around we are not as cavalier about getting her a phone.
There are days I love the phone and days I wonder why she has it. I love that she can call if she needs a ride or has a problem and I can reach her if there is a change.I am more comfortable letting her venture out knowing she has a phone. All of this connection can also lead to disconnection. She is on her phone a lot. Some days, I swear she never looks up and it is a constant battle to limit time. We also struggle with how much to monitor her use. It is hard to guide her if we don’t know what she is doing on her phone. We want to make sure she is using her phone responsibly but we don’t want to read every text.
Before buying a phone, parents and kids should discuss time and use. Ultimately, whether a kid is ready for a phone depends a lot on them and you. Some questions to think about are:
How responsible are they with their current devices?
How well are they doing with time management?
Are they managing friendships well in the real world?
Are you ready as a parent to manage and guide their use?
If you decide it is time for a phone, remember a phone and internet can be separated and introduced at different ages. Your 6th grader may need a phone to get picked up at school. It doesn’t mean they need internet access. Contrary to what they may tell you, not everyone has a smartphone.
Once you have decided on a phone, parents and kids should sit down and talk expectations & consequences. Working together, you and your child can create a family phone contract. Creating a contract together is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page. I like the idea of a contract vs. a list of rules. It gives you a chance to hear their thoughts and talk about responsible phone use. Ultimately, their safety and privacy must be protected so not everything is negotiable.
Parents should decide how they are going to monitor time and use. Keeping chargers downstairs is a great way to limit late night texting. Parents may also want to set a no phones at the dinner table rule. To keep track of use, we have surprise cell phone checks and I know other parents who use monitoring software. Whatever you decide for your child make sure that monitoring and education go hand in hand. The goal is for monitoring to lead to a dialogue.
We are all learning the rules of the road for this new technology. They will make mistakes. When they may make a mistake or see something that upsets them, you want them to come to you. Mistakes are an opportunity for everyone to learn.