The Technology/Social Media Rules Kids and Teens Wish Their Parents Would Follow

The Technology/Social Media Rules Kids and Teens Wish Their Parents Would Follow

We talk often about the rules we should be setting for our children around their use of technology and social media, but here’s the rub – the way we as parents use technology can affect our children as much as their use of technology affects them. Rules around technology usage in families can be a source of angst for both parents and kids. Even when rules are agreed on, enforcing them can bring as much joy into the household as a three-day old temper. 

Researchers explored technology usage rules in families, but from an angle which is rarely considered – the rules children would like their parents to follow. The study, involving 249 families with children between the ages of 10 and 17 has revealed some fascinating details.

Dear Parents,

We wish you would follow these rules – that’s all thanks bye. Love From Your Kids.

The research revealed that our children want many of the same things from us that we want from them. They want us to put down our phones when they’re talking to us and they don’t want us to text and drive – even while we’re stopped at traffic lights. Interestingly though, there is something many parents are doing that our kids want stopped – posting information or photos of them on social media without asking them first.

Even the most loving parents may do this, not thinking their children will mind. It turns out they do. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. It’s likely that many of us would feel the same if our children posted photos of us asleep, dancing like nobody was watching, singing like nobody was listening, and yelling because they actually do listen but not when you ask them (again) to pack the dishwasher.

Often, the posting of photos is likely to be completely innocent, and not intended to make kids squirm, but what many children are telling us, is that for them, it’s crossing a boundary. For our kids, their first experiencing of establishing their boundaries is with us. We’ll be the first ones to feel the brunt of their ‘no’s’, their resistance, or their experimentation with where their boundaries lie. We want this. We want them to be clear about what feels okay and what doesn’t. When we put their important, sometimes private, moments into the internet stratosphere without asking for their permission, the risk is that we’re teaching them that other people can do the same, and that their boundaries don’t matter. Like anything, it needs a little sensibility. Maybe they will care, maybe they won’t, but what they’re telling us is that they’d like it if we made sure. 

The research found seven general rules children wished their parents would follow: 

  1. Be Present. Our children want us to put our phones away when they need us, such as when they’re talking to us. It’s just the way it is that if we want them to talk to us about the important stuff (and it’s all important to them), we need to be ready when they are.
  2. Child autonomy. Not surprisingly, children would love it if parents allowed children to make their own decisions about their technology use. As parents, we would probably love it too – if we knew it would always end well. 
  3. Moderate use. If our children had a say, they would ask us to balance our technology use with other activities. This doesn’t necessarily mean our use is out of balance, but it might reflect our children’s needs to have us present and available when they need us (and so we can notice when they need us). 
  4. Supervise. Our children might hate our rules – we probably hate our rules too sometimes – but they want us to enforce the rules that keep them safe. At first glance, this might seem inconsistent with their need for autonomy, but it isn’t really. Our children want us to keep them safe, but they don’t want us intruding more than that. The struggle can be agreeing on what counts as ‘keeping them safe’ and what counts as ‘intruding’.
  5. Not while driving. Not even at traffic lights. They want to stop us texting or looking at our phones when we’re behind the wheel, even if we’re stopped at traffic lights. They’re watching everything we do. One day they’ll be driving, and when are, we’ll want them to put the phone down too.
  6. Practice what you preach. Kids and teens want their parents to practice what they preach, such as putting the phone down when everyone is at the table.
  7. Don’t overshare. They really don’t want us to share information about them with their explicit permission. According to Sarita Schoenebeck, assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Information and one of the authors of the study,

Twice as many children as parents expressed concerns about family members over sharing personal information about them on Facebook and other social media without permission … Many children said they found that content embarrassing and felt frustrated when their parents continued to do it.” 

What rules are families setting around technology and social media?

Almost all families have rules around social media and technology. The research found that only 6% of families have no rules or expectations at all about technology use. The rules that were reported by children and parents fell primarily into one of the following categories. The list is comprehensive and it makes sense. It would be a handy guide for any family who is exploring their own rules around technology and social media usage.

  1. Be present. No technology at certain times (such as at the table). This rule was a priority for children in relation to their parents.
  2. Privacy. This involved protecting identity and personal information. This was the primary concern for parents in relation to their children.
  3. Not at night. No technology after a certain time at night, or no phones in the bedroom after bedtime.
  4. Real-time check-ups. This rule makes way for parents to check their child’s devices, phones, or social media at any time.
  5. Ban on particular sites, games or activities. This might include a particular video game, site, or social media platform.
  6. Responsibilities first. No technology until certain obligations have been met, such as homework or chores.
  7. Rules about behaviour. No viewing, producing or sharing anything sexual, no bullying, and no bad language.
  8. Fixed time limits. Rules around how long children can engage with technology. When time’s up, it’s up.
  9. Be balanced. Balance technology use with other activities, such as playing outside. 
  10. Cost restrictions. Rules around the spend, such as, ‘no data without wi-fi’.

How to make rules that lessen the likelihood of clashes.

Making rules is easy. Enforcing them – not so much. When the battle is on, it can feel like a gladiatorial clash with a fearless and worthy opponent. Technology and social media can be great things for our kids, and can really open up their world, but it can also come with risks. We don’t want our children growing up feeling scared of a world that can hurt them, but the truth is, that world is there. Children and teens will often be blind to these threats, which can make the dangers worse. This is where we come in.

Having rules around technology and social media use is important, but as much as we can, we want them to understand and agree with the rules. When the rules make sense to them, they’ll be more likely to internalise those rules and follow them even when we aren’t watching – and we won’t be watching most of the time. It’s impossible to constantly know what our kids are doing online. When they follow rules because they believe the rules make sense, rather than to stay out of trouble, it’s more likely that they will stay compliant, even when they have the opportunity to do otherwise. 

One of the best ways to make this happen is to involve them in making the rules. Making the rules as a team will help make sure everyone feels heard and understands the reasons for the rules. It’s important that the conversation is open, and that children feel as though they are able to say whatever they feel. It’s the only way you’re going to know about what might tempt them to push the boundaries. When the conversation is open, they’ll feel heard and you’ll have the opportunity to respond to any of their blindspots or misunderstandings.

There’s something else we need to remember whenever we’re setting rules for our kids about social media, particularly for older kids: They often know the territory better than we do. Although there will be risks they will be blind to, there might also be ones that we’re blind to. We need them involved in the conversation, because we need to learn from them, especially if we want them to learn from us. We need to ask them what they think the biggest risks are, and we need to listen. We also need to ask them what they think about the risks we see, and we need to listen. In their answers, will be the reasons they don’t think the rules are important. This will be the things they’ll tell themselves to make it okay to break the rules. Then we need to ask them again next month, because the landscape is changing so quickly out there.

Research has found that children are more open to our rules when those rules are around their personal safety and welfare, as opposed to when we set rules related to issues of personal taste. Knowing this gives us an edge. If the discussion of rules can tilt towards the risks, and the way the rules can help to ensure their safety, there is likely to be less resistance. (Of course, ‘less resistance’ doesn’t mean ‘no resistance’, which is a pity.) It’s also important to keep in mind that children and teens who are using technology and social media want to feel as though they have some autonomy. For us as parents, the challenge is to give them space to explore their autonomy, and keep them safe at the same time. A way to do this is to invite them to set the rules they need to stay safe. To do this, explain the risks and what you’re worried about, then put it to them to come up with a rule that will address that.

This does a couple of things – both good. First, it lets them feel as though they are setting the rules for themselves. When they feel as though they are having a say in the rules, they are more likely to feel that this is something they are doing for themselves, rather than something you are making them do. This won’t always run as smoothly as you’ll want it to, of course. There might still be disagreement about which rules deserve to be rules, but it will help.

The second thing it will do is engage their thinking brain. Particularly for teens, decisions are often made without the engagement of the pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that is able to think through consequences, problem-solve, and analyse. The pre-frontal cortex won’t be fully developed until the end of adolescence, which is somewhere in the early 20s. In the meantime, they will be more likely to pay attention to the potential positives and less to the potential negatives. Their decisions will be based around what they can gain, rather than what it might cost them. This is why teens can easily get themselves into all sorts of trouble with sexting, cyberbullying, or sharing things they shouldn’t, or overexposing themselves to the world via the internet. This doesn’t mean they can’t use their pre-frontal cortex – they can, and when they do, they’ll do great things, but until it’s fully developed it will need to be ‘switched on’. Having the discussion about the risks and ways to manage those risks with rules will involve them having to problem solve, think of consequences, and use information to plan. All of these will engage the pre-frontal cortex and switch on their ‘thinking brain’. 

And finally …

Technology has an enormous capacity to open up the world for our kids and teens. They can have information at their fingertips, they can find support for anything, they can discover, experiment, and find a place they belong – but this can open up just as many problems. Other risks that technology brings include the dilution of their social skills, the need to always be accessible or ‘plugged in’, and the difficulty in finding space away from the world when the world’s access to them sits on their bedside table. The key is finding balance, and doing what we need to do to help them stay safe, and emotionally and socially healthy. Setting the rules we want them to follow isn’t always going to be enough. They spend so much time away from us, and if we don’t have them on board with the rules, the risk is that they’ll make their own decisions around which ones are important enough to matter. We don’t have control, but we can have influence. There are things we want from them, and there are things they want from us. This gives us an important opportunity to nurture our influence by asking them what matters to them, and where we can, negotiating the rules for the family, as a family. 

20 Comments

Karen Young

Thanks Jill! The share buttons are on the left hand side of the article, or if you’re on a mobile they are behind the grey ‘share this’ button at the bottom of the page. Hope that helps.

Reply
Samson

Actually just an adult perspective on what an adult thinks a child ought to want.

Reply
Samson

I read this part: ‘Of the 249 children in our sample, 43 (17%) reported that they believe adults should not be held to any rules or expectations about their technology use, saying things like “they are adults, they can do whatever they want.”

Of the remaining 203 children, 29 only described one rule or expectation. Thus, children described 383 rules for parents. Of these, 42 (11%) were not specific enough to be meaningful’

Reply
Tammy

Thank you for this! It reinforces many of our experiences in our home around technology. One question I have is how to handle consequences when the rules are not followed? We’ve had a particularly difficult time with this aspect of technology. It is easy to place restrictions on access but we find these restrictions are not helping to correct the behavior of, for example, not shutting down technology at the agreed upon time. Additionally, we’ve made distinctions between screen time with online games and screen time for research purposes, but now it seems there is always something to research. Any thoughts?

Reply
Karen Young

Ahhh – the ‘I need it to research’ conundrum. A lot of this has to come down to trust, especially because you can’t be watching over their shoulder constantly. There are some apps out there that might help. Here is a list that might have something for you http://www.bewebsmart.com/parental-controls/comprehensive-list-phones-computers-tablets/. In relation to consequences, it can be helpful to involve them in coming up with them too. Let them know that you want to give them freedom, and that you want to trust them, but there still needs to be consequences for when the rules are broken. Of course one of the heaviest consequences for a lot of kids is losing your trust. Try to have the consequences as natural as possible. So if for example you find that they are messaging in the middle of the night when phones are meant to be off at 9pm, the consequence might be that there is no technology in the bedroom after 9pm, or perhaps no phones after 7pm. Obviously this will depend on the ages of the children, and the way they use their technology.

Reply
Elspeth

Yes, have to agree with everything that Erika said about this article. Always timely of course – technology is all pervasive. It is hard to see our own patterns of use as a problem – we’re doing ‘important’ things whereas our perception of our children’s use can be that it’s less important. This article was more calming than most about tech and our children. I do panic about it. And even with trying to discuss my concerns and then work together to get some rules in place, We struggle to find a balance of tech and other activities. I think the questions to ask will really help – I have asked what my son finds most enjoyable, and watched and chatted as he ‘works’. His favourite game is so engaging. He can code, play, ‘meet’, chat and play with his friends. He can earn a little money and above all kudos. That’s an amazing thing for a young person who finds school hard in many ways. I still long for more balance of activities. I will try these new questions you suggest and see if we can get a little closer to my idea of safe (for brain development and emotional health and development and physical too). Thank you Karen x

Reply
Karen Young

Thanks Elspeth. I hope the questions are able to open up a useful conversation with your son. You’re absolutely right about the benefits of social media and technology. There are so many, and you’ve described an important ones – the opportunity to connect with others. Like anything that has a lot to offer, it can also have it’s problems. The key is communication. If you can keep the conversation open and and safe (even if that takes a few conversations) it will hopefully be easier to manage the risks and expand the potential for it to add something positive to your son’s life.

Reply
Ty Hatfield

Excellent article Karen! We love that you included that kids have boundaries too around this issue! As parent educators for 19 years we know this is critical to creating cooperation and safety.

Reply
Erika

Yet again your newsletter (and this article) came at the right time! Thank you for such a measured and genuinely helpful approach to an issue which definitely taxes a lot of families – it is so hard to strike a balance between embracing the positives that technology can offer and the concerns that it generates when our kids are ‘plugged in’ on a daily basis. You are absolutely right, we DO need to practice what we preach, as kids are brilliant at sniffing out all of those little double standards we think we have hidden!

Reply
Barbara G

I love getting your articles, and would like to post them on my Cool Kind Kid Facebook page where I daily am posting relevant articles regarding bullying, social skills, and raising kind, caring children. Please put a direct link on your articles to Facebook and others so I don’t have to send to my social media person to do this. Please note that I am 75 and for the last 20 years my late in life mission has been creating and developing curricula and products to help young children gain the social skills tools necessary for rejecting bullying.

Reply
Karen Young

Barbara I love that you’re doing this! There is a direct link to facebook on the articles. On a laptop, the share buttons are on the left hand side. On a mobile it’s down the bottom behind the light grey ‘Share This’ button. I hope this helps. And thank you for sharing!

Reply
Lisa S

This is just fabulous!! Thank you. I can literally hear my 9 year olds voice in the research shared. So validating for both of us!!!

Reply
Kathleen M

I think this is a great idea! If parents want their children to behave a certain way they should be the role model.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
.
.
.
#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
.
.
#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This