The Crucial Role of Family Agreements Around Technology Use

The Crucial Role of Family Agreements Around Technology Use

As we are so unused to the dominant roles phones play in teens lives (although perhaps because they dominate our own as well), many families are unprepared to set boundaries around technology use.  This means the young people set the terms – and face the consequences of the misuse of these.

Although the younger generation may understand the technology and the various apps more than we do, and we may marvel at their skills on one level, they are unprepared on a number of levels for completely autonomous use of them.  To put it simply, they might understand how to create a TikTok – but we as adults are far better at understanding the possible negative consequences of an inappropriate one.

While we have explored on this Wellbeing Hive the many benefits devices can bring to our lifestyles, as a leader in a wellbeing role in schools, I am contacted by many families who are struggling to educate and manage poor management of, and behaviour on, devices and especially social media platforms.

The consequences of unmonitored and unchecked use of devices is both physical and emotional.  We see a large number of students lacking sleep during these crucial years, because they are sitting up gaming, talking to friends, or wide-eyed and stressed about a comment that was made late in the evening – and what they may have to face at school tomorrow.

Similarly, we are approached by many families whose children have been a victim of online bullying, or who have been offended by thoughtless posts by students who do not perhaps have a firm grasp of the topics they are discussing, nor how to share their opinions in ways that are constructive and sensitive.  Engaging with controversial topics on social media can seem like a cheap and easy way to get likes and other reactions – but a thoughtless and crass post can also seriously damage your reputation and peer relationships.  Remember also that tone is harder to determine online, and jokes can be misconstrued with ease.

We may have the world at our fingertips – but sometimes that world will not be kind to us.

Young people need serious guidance in this area, and schools work hard to educate about appropriate online behaviours – but there is a crucial role for families to play in helping young people avoid harm.

The best process to have in place to support young people to use phone and other devices positively is a family agreement.  This is a set of guidelines about phone use that ALL members of the family agree to.  This might include:

  • Activities where phones are not allowed, such as dinner time where you talk as a family or time spent playing sport for a team. Give them activities they enjoy that do not require devices so that they see it is perfectly normal to detach from your phone for a while.  This is a healthy practice for us as adults as well – when was the last time you consciously put your phone in another room for a while?
  • Agreed places for storage and charging of phones (and other devices) overnight. This should definitely not be in bedrooms as young people will be unable to stop themselves from checking them which not only interrupts their sleep patterns, but may be stressful if they see things online they wished they hadn’t when the rest of the family is asleep.
  • Agreements about allowed social media accounts and agreements that we stay connected to each other on social media. It is very important to be able to see what your child posts in order to understand how they are portraying themselves online, and how others are reacting to this persona.  We have had to show some very shocked parents some very disturbing online posts – but by the time this gets to the school, many, many members of the public will have seen it.  A parent connected to their child’s account will be able to get to this earlier, and deal with it appropriately.  Children also evaluate what they post more carefully if they know an authority figure is watching.
  • A time in which all devices are shut down to allow for screen free periods before bed. A good hour should be spent free from screens of all kinds – including televisions – to ensure for an uninterrupted pattern of sleep.  As a reading school, we very much endorse time spent with a good book of an evening.
  • Agreements around explicit materials. The average age of exposure to pornography for boys is 11 years old. This is shockingly young.  Often these occur accidentally, when a young person googles something that produces unexpected results.  Your agreement should outline that no explicit material is purposefully viewed.  While we do not want to shame young people about a natural curiosity about sexuality, there is shocking data available on the damage of regular expose to porn.  This article outlines some of this – click on the link at the start of this sentence to read. Your agreement should clearly state no-one should not access any restricted material and should NEVER share any of these images with anyone else who may not wish to see them. This is another common way in which young people are first exposed to this kind of content – when shown it by a friend.  Start conversations about this early – even in primary school. Should a device show a child something disturbing or confusing, they should be encouraged to come and talk to you about it.

Also, actively encourage activities which do not rely on phones, such as:

  • Weekly catch ups with friends
  • Playing on a sporting team
  • A hobby that does not use technology – such as playing an instrument, chess, caring for a pet and so on.

What we need to impart to young people is two things – firstly that devices are a part of our lives, but that they are not connected to the WHOLE of our lives.  There are times when they can be put away, and we can choose to ignore them if they buzz when we are having fun cooking or playing a board game or engaged in a conversation with the person in front of us – but we need to model it to.

We also need to model the second point – that who we are on social media must be the person that embodies are values.  Choose to be kind whenever you can.  Choose to support rather than attack. Listen and stay quiet if you do not understand an issue being discussed.  Choose to strive to understand rather than to be heard.  The consequences of doing otherwise can be long-lasting and painful.

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