My family has officially reached that time where we have made the decision for our young adolescent son to have his own smartphone (after having his own tablet for gaming/YouTube only for a year or two). For as much as I have been helping other families navigate digital waters for years now, we are swimming in the deep end of the pool ourselves now. And since my wife and I are so serious about utilizing clear rules to help provide healthy digital boundaries for our son, I thought you might like to know what those rules are. Keep in mind that these rules will evolve as he grows through his teen years, so this is our beginning point with a middle-schooler. Here goes…
1. We reserve the right to examine any and all phone content any time we believe we need to do so. This could include phone calls, texts, internet history, and any app content. All passwords must be disclosed, or swift and sure consequences will follow. I recommend occasionally taking a look through the phone, just to be sure all is well. If something has popped up on your parenting radar that gives you particular concerns about your child’s or teen’s digital behavior, take a good close look right away, and keep a close eye for a while. Any kind of backlash from our youngster about handing over the phone will result in a loss of trust, which will likely result in some loss or setback of privilege.
2. We will not abuse this parental power with excessive snooping. As parents, we must keep in mind that going overboard with hovering, investigating, and downright, snooping into our kids’ digital worlds will likely cause a strain in our relationship, and possibly push them to just get better at hiding what they don’t want us to find. Just as we want them to learn healthy boundaries, we must model healthy boundaries for them. Reserving the right to look when you have a clear reason is not the same as lurking. Don’t be a lurker.
3. No digital devices are allowed in kids’ bedrooms after bedtime. The simplest way to set this boundary is to have teens/preteens put their devices on the charger in a “public” family space before bedtime. If they get busted sneaking it into the bed at night, this will also be addressed with painful lessons and clear teaching and guidance.
4. Early adolescents are not allowed to have direct social interaction with anyone they don’t know in the REAL world. As we explained to our son, there are several reasons we are so serious about this rule, including the reality of predators and the risk of making online connections more important than real life connections.
5. Preteens/Teens should report anything inappropriate to parents immediately – including their own misbehavior. I realize this may sound far-fetched, but hear me out. We want our son to learn that life will always go better for him if he brings questionable activity or his own misbehavior to our attention than if we discover it while he is hiding it. Reasonable measures of mercy will be shown in such situations, along with a clear conversation about how proud we are of him for practicing confession and honesty.
6. Digital devices should always be turned off within two minutes of being told it is time to do so. I do believe it is important for us parents to recognize and respect that our youngsters may be in the middle of something that they would really like to finish or save. You may be surprised how much this respect from us will do to build a strong relationship of mutual respect with our teens. However, they also need to learn that there is a time to simply turn it off, and that their world will not come crashing down, even if they lose a little progress or the opportunity to get something really cool on a game or whatever.
7. We will have regular discussions about digital life. These discussions may range from Biblical inspiration and guidance to conversations about emerging technologies, apps, etc. to sharing recent experiences and decisions made in the digital world. Periodically include parental feedback about delights and/or concerns you have regarding your teen’s digital conduct, as well as occasionally discussing possible expansions of their digital freedom.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17 (NIV)