Tomorrow is Safer Internet Day, a day in which the cyber community joins together to help make the Internet a safer and better place for all, especially children and young people. From cyberbullying to social media, each year Safer Internet Day aims to raise awareness of emerging cyber safety issues and a variety of current parental concerns.
Children are some of the most vulnerable people as they tend to be more naive of the dangers that threaten them. You not only need to keep your kids safe at home and on the playground, but also online. Making sure your young ones are protected on the Internet requires forethought, communication and education. One of the best ways to put this protection in place is with a cyber contract.
Why a Cyber Contract is a Good Idea
When you set clear expectations and boundaries, you help your children learn how to be responsible online and accountable for their actions. You also help keep them safe from online dangers and predators. These are some of the things kids can fall prey to online:
- Violation of privacy
- Online predators
- Inappropriate content
How to Set Up a Cyber Contract
Start setting up a cyber contract by explaining how your family’s values apply to the digital world. Provide information about what a contract is and the consequences of violating such an agreement. Because you want this contract to make a real difference, include your children in the process as much as possible.
When children give input into the contract, they have a more vested interest in upholding it. In addition, this gives you the opportunity to learn what they already know about Internet dangers and what online behaviors they see as threatening or disruptive to their offline life and relationships.
What to Include in Your Cyber Contract
When you set up your cyber contract, include comprehensive information about what type of digital behavior is expected from all family members. You can follow a cyber contract template, or create your own contract by covering the information below.
- Protecting personal information: Kids and adults need to pledge that they will not give out any personal information, including phone numbers, addresses, and school names. This also includes parents’ work information and schedules.
- Being respectful online: You want your children to be treated respectfully, and they also need to create a culture of online behavior based on trust, respect, and kindness. Discuss online etiquette, as well as acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
- Time limits: The contract should establish appropriate screen time limits for online engagement. All family members should agree that time online is a privilege and will not interfere with schoolwork, sleep, or family time. This needs to apply to grown-ups as well; monitor and arrange time working from home so it doesn’t take away from time with family.
- Family etiquette for shared devices: If your family shares a central computer, laptop, or tablet, establish guidelines for use. Emphasize the importance of sharing and explain that certain activities—like homework—trump playing online games. Otherwise, time with devices should be equally shared.
- Not bullying: Cyberbullying is any kind of bullying that takes place digitally. This includes sending mean messages, writing unkind posts, sharing embarrassing pictures, and spreading vicious lies and rumors. Children need to agree not to engage in bullying behavior while online.
- Reporting uncomfortable online situations: Even if your kids don’t engage in bullying behavior, they may fall victim to it. Include what your children should do if they see online bullying or other behavior that makes them feel uncomfortable or targeted. Address how you will respond so that kids feel safe bringing situations to your attention.
- Posting, viewing, and sharing photos: Photos open up a lot of risk online. In addition to posting or being exposed to explicit or inappropriate pictures, photos can also reveal personal information like locations and school names. Young children shouldn’t have photos of themselves posted on online profiles, and they should never share or send photos without your approval.
- Protecting passwords: Passwords should be guarded carefully. Under no circumstances should children share their passwords with anyone except you.
- Downloading and clicking on links: Educate your children about the dangers of clicking on links from unknown sources and downloading apps and software. Screen anything your child wants to click on or download and explain how malware and viruses can jeopardize your family’s privacy and computer.
Once you establish the elements of the cyber contract, make sure everyone understands each section and have all family members sign it. Keep the contract posted near the computer for easy reference and set up a schedule to review it, making any necessary revisions or updates.
How to Hold Kids Accountable for Their Online Behavior
Drawing up a comprehensive cyber contract is just the first step to protecting your children online. The next thing you need to do is make sure everyone abides by it. While there is no magic solution to holding kids accountable, there are things you can do to keep them on the right track.
- Coach, don’t lecture: Children tend to respond better to guidance and encouragement than lectures and nagging. Adopt the role of a coach when it comes to your child’s online activity. Let them know what they’re doing well and work with them to correct unsafe behaviors. This requires more effort than simply pointing out where they went wrong, but it will yield better long-term results.
- Establish rewards and consequences: Part of your contract should detail what will happen if it is violated. Talk to your kids to find out what rewards they want—like extra time online, a later bedtime, or a family outing—and what consequences are appropriate. Consequences should be immediate, short term, and suited to the crime. For example, if your child engages in mean behavior on social media, they must apologize to the victim, remove the inappropriate information, and use social media only under direct supervision for the next week.
- Lead by example: Because all family members are included in the cyber contract, demonstrate the online behaviors you want your children to emulate. Respect time limits, sharing etiquette, and rules about sharing private information and photos. If you do something out of the scope of the contract, explain to your children why you did so.
- Explain what will be different: Before you lay down the law and dole out consequences, let your children know what they can expect as you all move forward under the contract. Tell them how you will monitor their online behavior for compliance and how you will address any mistakes.
- Remind them what they can do: It’s easy to focus on everything you don’t want your children doing, but kids respond positively to information that focuses on what they are allowed to do. Emphasize what they can do online and how they should do it. They may not be as tempted to test boundaries if you keep them focused on all the freedoms they have.
- Set up an early warning system: Establish cues and reminders to help keep kids on track when they are online. Give them notice when their time online is running out, warn them if they’re about to infringe on a sibling’s time, or set up a three-strikes system for contract violations. We all make mistakes or lose track of time, and a warning system helps prevent a problem before it happens.
- Praise responsible behavior: In addition to delivering consequences, take the time to reward good behavior. When your child consistently applies the principles of the contract, is kind to friends online, and sticks to time limits, let them know you notice. Tell them how proud you are and thank them for being so responsible.
In addition to these practices, you may also want to use parental control software or an online monitoring app, like Intego ContentBarrier or Family Protector. These programs help you keep track of what your child does online without standing over their shoulder. Let your kids know if you’re using a monitoring app and explain that it’s for their safety—not to spy on them or catch them misbehaving.
Protecting children from danger is one of the most important jobs you have as a parent, and the Internet has expanded the number of threats they can be exposed to. However, you can take your children by the hand online with a thoughtful cyber contract that includes clear boundaries and explicit rewards and consequences. Use this guide and start drafting your family’s agreement today.