Most adults know breaking a contract is a messy business. Recently I made the switch from AT&T to T-Mobile, but as I was still under contract with AT&T, was forced to pay a hefty fine for leaving my contract a year early (hey, T-Mobile has killer international data plans. Spread the word). Recently my husband and I moved into a home where the previous tenants had broken their contract by having multiple pets. In the end, to avoid a lawsuit, they had to pay for re-carpeting the entire house. Contracts are binding, and when broken, always have consequences, often expensive.
When it comes to social media, you need a contract with your teens. Why do I only say “teens”? Because many of the most popular social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) require users to be at least 13 years of age, due to the “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act”, which doesn’t allow companies to collect personal data from anyone under 13. While this may be one of the easiest online “rules” to fudge (altering your birth year is easier than pronouncing “grande” when ordering at Starbucks), it’s a rule that must be kept. If rules aren’t consistent or enforced, they won’t be followed. Period. And when it comes to social media, the rules you set must to be followed for the safety of your children. Here’s why: (reason #4 is my favorite)
Here are 6 benefits of a contract:
1. A contract cements the rules in stone
2. A contract is an agreement between two parties (this includes the parents)
3. A contract is less about either party, and more about itself
4. A contract is the enemy, not the parent (and vice versa)
5. A contract requires personal integrity (on the part of the child and the parents)
6. A contract broken always has consequences
If creating your own social media contract sounds daunting, don’t lose sleep over it. I’ll list some great examples below. But before you decide to just copy a generic contract, think about it with your child in mind and be sure to include some specific elements. Your contracts may even vary considerably by child.
1. You (the parent) have passwords to all their social networking accounts
2. They never “Check-in” while physically at a location
3. They never post a picture they wouldn’t want featured on the big screen at church
4. They never, ever engage in any kind of bullying
5. They never try to hide their activity from you – because that would indicate it’s not appropriate
6. They can only be online ‘friends’ with people you know too. None of this “but he’s Jordan’s cousin” business.
The next step
After writing your contract (or adapting someone else’s), communicate with your spouse. A social media contract should be taken seriously, and you both need to be on the same page to enforce it. You also need to come up with consequences (possibly even degrees of consequences) for breaking the contract. Make sure they are reasonable, and things you will actually do. It’s important to talk and think about this ahead of time to avoid acting out of emotion, not following through, or being taken off guard if something does happen.
After completing your family’s contract, pray over it. No really! This is for the safety of your children, and you. It needs to be taken seriously, and is a very good way for your teen to practice integrity and responsibility. Consequences are a part of life, and knowing they will be enforced if a breach of contract should occur is vital to the efficacy of your contract. Next, sit down as a family to discuss it. Make sure your teen knows you aren’t doing this to be a helicopter parent, but to protect and help him or her learn to use these platforms wisely. The end goal with a contract is for your teens to be completely trustworthy by the time they leave for college. And despite popular opinion, trustworthy they can be.