Our family spends a lot of time online. I’m constantly astonished by the way our kids will casually say, “You can tweet that, Daddy” or “Don’t Facebook that, Mummy!” the way I might have asked my mom to stop talking so loudly in a restaurant. Our kids are only 4 and 7, so I’m nothing less than delighted that they already direct us on how to represent them online — or conversely, to respect their privacy.
The ongoing conversation in our home about how to use social media — and in particular, how to do so in a way that is both safe and enjoyable for our kids — has helped us evolve a de facto social media policy governing how we engage with social media as a family. I decided it was time to go from de facto to actual, recorded policy. I found some great resources for thinking about corporate social media policies on Inc., Social Media Today and PolicyTool.net, and used these to help me think about the kinds of issues we might want to cover in our family social media policy.
Our policy is in text below. It refers to our household as the Palindrome (our nickname for our house) and to our kids’ online handles, so I’ve created a more generic, downloadable version here (RTF) that you can adapt for your own family. By the way, I am not a lawyer, so I am in no way suggesting that this is a legally binding document. But hey, if your kids are suing you over your rules around Facebook, you’ve got bigger problems than my lack of a law degree.
A Family Social Media Policy for the Palindrome (Samuel-Cottingham family)
It is the responsibility of all residents of the Palindrome to familiarize themselves with this social media policy. Those residents who are not able to read may request assistance reading and interpreting the social media policy until such a time as they are literate. Palindrome residents are subject to this policy until they reach the age of 18 or become fully self-supporting, whichever comes later. This policy holds whether they identify themselves as residents of the Palindrome or participate in social media activities under a pseudonym.
This policy applies to all social media, online communities, networked video games, and Internet-connected devices. This includes but is not limited to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, the PlayStation Network, Xbox LIVE, and GameCenter apps. This policy is additional to any other family policies governing use of TV, e-mail, smartphones, videogames, tablets and the Internet. Its policies hold with respect to all family members’ online activities, whether they are executed in the course of schoolwork, professional responsibilities or personal use.
Use of social media and online tools
The use of social media and other networked tools is part of our family life and relationships. The respectful, creative and safe use of social and interactive media is encouraged, as is the thoughtful and conscious decision to refrain from using any electronic device or online tool at a specific time, or generally. Each member of our family is expected to determine his or her own preferred set of on- and offline activities and to control the persona or personas s/he chooses to maintain online. For minor residents, these online activities must take place within the bounds of safety and good judgement, as determined by Mummy and Daddy. Before participating in social media, joining any online network or registering as a user of an online game, minor residents must obtain the permission of Mummy or Daddy.
All conversations, activities and events at the Palindrome shall be treated as confidential. Off-site conversations and activities shared by members of our household shall likewise be covered by this expectation of confidentiality. Confidentiality may be waived by any member of the household upon explicit request. Do not post, tweet, Facebook or otherwise share any images, utterances or activities of family members without their consent. This applies to both parents and minor residents; minor residents may grant or deny any request to post their utterances, images or creations to blogs, Facebook, Twitter or other online media. Likewise, we must respect the wishes of our family and friends regarding the confidentiality of our social engagements and conversations.
It is the responsibility of all residents and visitors to the Palindrome to safeguard the personally identifiable information of minor residents. Each resident of the Palindrome will be restricted in their disclosure of personally identifiable information until such a time as they have proven their alertness to “stranger danger”; the scope of permissable sharing will be commensurate with each resident’s age and capacity for self-protection. Personally identifiable information includes the dates and locations of upcoming vacations or travel, names or locations of schools and after-school programs, the legal names of minor family members or depictions of the faces of minor family members.
All postings that reference minor residents should refer to them by their online handles: Lil Sweetie and Lil Peanut. Images of minor residents are to be shared only within password-protected or limited membership circles online (for example, a limited circle of Facebook friends).
When posting content to the Internet, all members of the Palindrome household should make it clear that their online postings represent their opinions alone. When speaking on behalf of other family members, please be explicit about which family members are represented in the post.
All members of the Palindrome are encouraged to publish their online content under Creative Commons licenses. When violating copyright laws (for example, by downloading protected video or audio content) any member of the household may be asked to provide a clear, internally consistent argument for that violation; minor residents may ask for help reading and interpreting relevant materials on intellectual property laws and alternative copyright regimes. Where warranted by the volume or content of illegally or illicitly obtained content, residents may be requested to provide their justification in writing. Minor residents may request justification from parents as well as vice versa.
No member of the Palindrome household will attempt to obtain, through deception or observation, the password of any other family member. This includes but is not limited to e-mail logins, social media logins, iPad and iPhone unlock codes and iTunes store accounts.
All members of the Palindrome may request technical, creative or instructional support from other members in their use of social media, online gaming or other interactive tools. These requests may be subject to the availability and priorities of other family members. Wherever possible, Mummy and Daddy will endeavour to assist the minor residents in their safe exploration of the Internet and other networked and electronic devices.
All residents of the Palindrome are welcome to comment on this social media policy, and to request future iterations or amendments. Minor residents are encouraged to provide retrospective appreciation for their parents’ efforts at including them in the governance of family Internet use, and for the general awesomeness of the level of technology to which they have access at a young age.
Creating your family policy
If you are interested in developing your own family social media policy, you can download a draft family social media policy in RTF form (adapted to be slightly more generic). Please leave a comment or send me a tweet if you decide to use or adapt it – I’d love to hear how it works or how you’ve amended it.
Wow this is really great! I’m curious if you’ve had any issues/problems with social media use outside of your immediate family? For example, do the grandparents of your kids or their aunts or uncles every post photos or blog about your kids? How would you handle the issue for these extended family members?
Brilliant! Well said, Alex, and very timely, too. While my four-year-old is still in the “on-the-verge-of-literate” category, he has started publishing a daily newspaper distributed to 5 of our neighbors and has asked me to help him publish an online version (decision pending on that one). His first word was “email” and he already has a Twitter account so it’s only a matter of time before we’ll need a policy like this. In fact, I may just negotiate terms with my husband now to ease neogtiations with the wee man when he’s old enough to read it.
I’m all for a consistent set of rules where family Internet use is concerned, but am I to understand that you actually presented this–as written above–to a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old? Creative Commons license? Really? It seems both wordy AND legalistic. I would think that a simple set of easily remembered rules would go much further – and be far more effective. For instance, roughly 80% of your “policy” boils down to:
“Don’t put anything that happens in our house online, unless you get permission.”
“Don’t try to get someone else’s password or pretend to ‘be them’ on the Internet.”
“Don’t put stuff online about what other family members say or do without their permission.”
“Don’t give out your personal information or sign up for anything online without checking with Mom or Dad FIRST.”
Compliance rates are directly proportional to one’s ability to understand the policy. I’d definitely keep it MUCH simpler than this example – write to your audience. *grin*
Does the “need” for a policy imply that the 4- and 7-year-old enjoy unsupervised use of online media/resources?
I can see your logic, but as she mentioned, they do explain the rules to the kids. I think it’s a good idea to get them used to this kind of language and the fact that things on the internet come with rules and guidelines similar to that used above. They might not be using these services unsupervised right now, but give the 7-year-old a couple of years. Plus, if Mark Zuckerberg (sp?) has his way, Facebook could be opened up for kids under 13 . . . do you trust Facebook to write a TOS agreement for an audience that young?
Well, as my Twitter bio reads, I’m a net.old-fogey; I was using what we now call “the Internet” before commercial businesses were allowed to participate. As you might imagine, I’ve seen the best and worst of the online world. I’ve raised four kids along the way, whose ages range (today) from 13 to 18.
Having said/lived all of that, I stick to my parental guns. The best “policy” is a set of rules, written in language that can be easily understood by its target audience. As far as the “under-13 Facebook” idea is concerned, none of my kids were using the Internet unsupervised–in ANY fashion–at the age of 12. Even today, we reserve the right to spot-check their email, texts and Facebook pages.
My position boils down to something akin to “If you feel that you need a policy this extensive, your kids aren’t ready.”
I’m not advocating unsupervised use of the internet either. I just see a policy like this serving dual purpose. One is to establish the guidelines for the family (and I like how it works both ways, so that parents are accountable to their kids for their online actions as well). The other is to teach kids that activities online in real life are governed by usage guidelines and that it’s important for them to learn and understand them. I don’t imagine the really young kids understanding the full scope of the document as shared above, but they wouldn’t be using the internet unsupervised at that age anyway. As they get older into their teen years, I expect that their understanding of it would improve. Hopefully, if they have grown up in a household where an agreement like that was present, respected, and understood, they will be more savvy when they are using the internet independently, instead of blindly clicking ‘I agree’ to a TOS agreement that they have made zero effort to understand.
I’ll resist the temptation to tell you that after hours and hours of unsupervised Internet use our kids are now reading at the level of a 2nd-year law student. No such luck!
But yes, they do get semi-unsupervised time online. As in, my daughter or son is on the iPad or Mac while I sit beside her/him on the sofa, only looking at what they are up to occasionally. So far this has worked fine: they stay on PBS Kids, or CBC Kids, or occasionally drift around YouTube. Sometimes they end up watching videogame walkthroughs on YouTube that feature salty language, but no saltier than they’d hear from me or my mom.
As for the legalese: I don’t expect the kids to read this document (yet) though I will talk through the contents with them. We’re thinking about ways to make a kid-friendly version. Suggestions?