The internet is the Wild West of modern times, expansive, unpredictable, thrilling, full of adventure and danger. Dropping our tweens or teens off in this strange land with a fervent prayer that they’ll be OK and some wishy-washy advice (Be careful! Make good choices! Don’t trust strangers!) isn’t enough. They need guidance created from the morals and structure that already exist in the family.
With that in mind, I recently created this social media contract for my 13-year-old daughter. On her 13th birthday, we allowed her to have Instagram, and she posted an image of herself that we weren’t OK with. (After receiving two texts from watchful eyes, I found that both of her older brothers felt the same way.) It occurred to me that creating a contract would not only outline some things we hadn’t gone over specifically enough, but would create a barrier to a lot of arguing over what the rules actually were. There’s no way to argue with an agreement signed by both parents and the child! You can dislike it, but you can’t say it doesn’t exist.
Without further ado, here is the contract:
1. I agree to keep my settings at “private” at all times.
2. I agree not to post any pictures of body parts. I will only post pictures of myself or friends if they include our faces. I understand this is not because there is anything wrong or shameful with any parts of my body, but that it is not healthy to sexualize myself to strangers as a young person.
3. I agree not to post sexualized images. This includes kissing of any kind, grabbing body parts or making sexual gestures of any kind. There is nothing wrong with being silly, but the Internet is not a safe place for a young girl to be silly in a sexual way.
4. I agree to be respectful of myself and others in the words and images I use. This includes agreeing not to use social media to mock, tease, embarrass, gossip or reveal secrets.
5. I agree for safety not to reveal the specific place I am when I am there. For example, I will not post a picture saying “I am at the pool with a friend and then we are walking home.”
6. I agree to immediately tell an adult family member if I ever receive any threatening or sexual messages or images on any social channel.
7. I agree not to view pornography. I understand that sex is a wonderful and healthy part of an adult life, but that pornography is a different thing than sex, and not healthy for a young person. I understand that I cannot control the images I see once I start looking at a pornography page or video, and those images will never leave my brain, and that can be harmful to my emotional and spiritual health. I agree that if I accidentally stumble across pornography or a friend shows it to me, I will stop watching. I understand that pornography is a complicated reality and that many of the young women and men in the videos that pop up online are hurting and being treated badly. It’s natural to be curious and there is nothing wrong with that, and I understand that when I am a young adult, I can make these choices for myself, but until then, I agree not to view this material.
8. I agree to acknowledge that everything I put online is permanently available, even if it can be immediately deleted or hidden. I understand that people who know technology well can access images and words that have been deleted even if the app tells you otherwise. I understand that even private messages can be copied and pasted somewhere else. I understand that when I am grown and an adult, someone can look my name up and find every single thing I’ve ever put online. This includes bosses, boyfriends, girlfriends, future family and friends, neighbors and co-workers.
9. I agree that when I am having family time, I will put away my devices, including my phone. This goes for the adults as well.
10. I agree that occasionally I will have Internet blackouts. This means that when I am showing signs of needing a tech break—such as lack of reading or creative activities, irritability, constantly pulling out my phone, unable to concentrate and not wanting to participate in family activities or time—my parents might ask that I stay off the Internet and my phone for a day or two.
11. I agree to be done with all tech including phone by 8:00 nightly unless I have asked for and received an exception.
12. If I do not follow these agreements, I understand that I will lose my social media privileges for as long as my parents feel it is necessary. I understand that my brothers, my grandmother and my parents love me more than anything in the world and create these boundaries out of that love.