A family agreement is a great way to start a conversation with your whole family about how you all use the internet and discuss together how to behave in a positive way when online at home, at school or at a friend’s house.
The agreement involves generating promises; these are positive statements about how your family want to look after each other online and how you should treat others online.
Key things to remember
• Who is involved with making the promises?
It’s important to involve all members of the family as much as possible when developing your family agreement. Children as young as three can help you make the promises and talk about why your family needs them.
As children get older, they can take a bigger part in deciding what the promises should be, as well helping decide what the consequences for breaking them should be. Pre-teens and teenagers will find it particularly useful to be involved in this process, because it gives them the chance to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Discussing issues around the internet can be a great way to bring out young people’s ideas about how to stay safe and use the internet responsibly.
Involving your child in creating both the family agreement and the consequences for breaking it will help them to understand and accept the agreement as part of your family’s time online.
• What should we include in the promises?
Begin the agreement by discussing how the whole family uses the internet. This will help you know which areas to focus on when writing the promises. These areas could be anything from online gaming or the amount of time spent online.
Start writing the promises for important areas which directly impact the safety of your family; who they talk to online, sharing of personal information and other issues that are important to you and your family. You might also want to develop promises about respecting others online, signing up to accounts, searching for content or clicking on links.
Every family’s agreement will be different. Your agreement should always take into account your family’s beliefs, values and situation as well as your child’s maturity and needs.
All good family agreements will have one thing in common; that they are specific and easy to understand. Although the promises you make can come in different shapes and sizes you may wish to have specific ‘dos and don’ts’ promises; ground rules which apply everywhere and to everyone or even situation promises which can change dependent on the device, app or person.
• When to start making the promises?
You can start making simple promises as soon as your child has the language skills to understand them. It can also be beneficial to begin your family agreement as your child starts using the internet as this can be part of teaching them what you expect.
Young children will need support and reminders to follow the promises, because they may be likely to forget or ignore them. This is especially important with safety promises like ‘I won’t meet up with anyone I only know online’ or ‘I won’t tell anyone online my personal information, eg school name and addresses’.
Some children with special needs might also need help to understand and remember the family agreement.
• Changing the promises
The agreement will change as your children develop and your family’s situation changes. As children get older, for example, promises about privacy might become more important.
Revise your agreement from time to time to bring the most important promises into the forefront of everyone’s mind. This can be a great time to now involve older children and teenagers in making any changes to the agreement.
• Backing up the promises
Setting up a family agreement is great but it is important to back this up. This means that when you decide on a promise, you also need to decide what will happen if it is broken. Talking about the consequences as a family can ensure that everyone understands and agrees to them. If children agree to the consequences of something in advance, they’re much more likely to keep a level head when it’s time for you to follow through.
When a promise is broken, you might choose simply to remind your child of it and give them another chance, especially with younger children.
If a promise has been broken more than once then it might be worth rewording it within the agreement to make sure it’s clear or considering whether it is realistic for your family. Perhaps approaching it in a different way will ensure that it can be followed, for example changing ‘I promise to never sign up to new accounts’ to ‘I promise to ask before I sign up to a new account and only do so with an adult’s help’.
It is also important to praise children and young people for the positive choices they make online and for following the family agreement.
Whilst issues can feel like they are specific to one app they are often occurring across multiple platforms. A child talking to people they don’t know through a game could also happen on a social networking site or online forum. We would recommend trying to keep your family agreement to risks rather than specific apps as this will help you set clear boundaries or guidelines for all of their internet use.
It is important to keep an open dialogue with young people about their experiences online, both positive and negative. Treat everyone in the family as an expert in their own right and share your knowledge together to help keep your family safe online. This will put you in the best position to support your family online and offer support if things go wrong.
Remember it might feel like children know more about technology but you know more about life and most importantly about how to keep them safe.