While much of our childhoods were spent outdoors and under the watchful eye of our parents. These days, almost every teen has many ways to get online: via smartphones, tablets, and laptops, all of which can be used in private. Without parents knowing, teens are inviting friends and strangers into their bedrooms through their technology. If you don’t already have some, now’s a great time to create some Family Internet Rules or Contract. Privacy has to do with changing clothes and going to the bathroom, not ignoring all of their online activities.

The biggest part to remember is that your teens are using technology on devices you paid for and through internet access that you are providing (for the most part). You are the parent. You pay the bill. You own the phone. Therefore, you have the right and responsibility to be a good watchdog.

Also remember all these activities are happening on a server that you don’t own (even texting). You have no control over what is done with that data. Emphasize that everything sent over the Internet or a cell phone can be shared with the entire world, so it is important they use good judgment in sending messages and pictures and set privacy settings on social media sites appropriately.

Instigate routine monitoring at random times, when you and your teen sit down together to go through their devices. You need to decide beforehand what you want to view and do not let your teen’s request dictate what you look at. Some parents find it helpful to allow the teen to operate the devices during these sessions, just make sure you know how the device works so that they can’t dupe you. Knowing that their devices will be observed will help teens stay on the straight and narrow.

Some families also set time limits for Internet and cell phone use. All parents should learn the warning signs of trouble: skipping activities, meals and homework for social media; weight loss or gain; a drop in grades. If these issues are occurring due to your teen being online when they should be eating, sleeping, participating in school or social activities, your teen may have a problem with Internet or social media addiction.

Multitasking should also be addressed during this time. It can be dangerous and even deadly. Be sure to stress to teens the importance of not texting, Facebooking, using the phone, listening to ear buds or earphones, or engaging in similarly distracting activities while driving. These forms of distracted driving are illegal in many states because they are so dangerous. Caution teens of all ages about using mobile devices while walking, biking, babysitting or doing other things that require their full attention.

Here are some items to consider including in your Family Internet Rules:

  • Will a parent need to friend or follow each teen on all social media sites that they are on?
    • Make sure that you are aware of all the social media sites that your teen uses and all their usernames on those sites.
  • Will a parent keep all the passwords that are used on each social media site?
  • Work with your teen to come up with a screen name to use on sites where they don’t have to use their real names.
  • Can your teen use location-based social media?
  • How much time and during what hours can your teen use the computer or other devices?
  • Can your teen post pictures of themselves or others online?
    • Do those pictures have to be approved by a parent first?
  • Make sure you include any additional restrictions from the following Social Media Guidelines (as appropriate) from:
    • Your teen’s school or school district (most schools and school districts reserve the right to discipline for acts of misconduct even if they occur on-line.)
    • Any groups your teen is involved in
    • The individual social media sites
  • Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/terms.php
  • Twitter: http://twitter.com/tos

Here are some links to sites with more examples of Family Internet Rules and Conduct:Teen-Social-Media