Thank you again to The Coparents’ Handbook contributor Kristin Little for sharing her thoughts on this blog. – Karen

In this world of technology and social media, how do we teach children respect for privacy while keeping them safe? Parents of older children have all heard the lament “But that’s private!” which can trigger a wave of doubt for parents. Do they have privacy? Where and when and how much?

Back in our childhood things were a lot simpler—we had diaries, we had closed bedroom doors. Now behind closed doors there may be a computer with which your child can access have virtually the entire world. Tweets and posts can be a form of recording the daily events and feelings instead of a little book with a lock.

As children grow older they definitely do need space to explore their own feelings, manage friendships, and make sense of the happenings in their daily lives without their parent’s constant management. They do need to struggle and make small mistakes in order to learn. Children need privacy for self-reflection in order to form their own sense of identity and individuality. Yet where do parents draw the line?

For co-parents it is especially challenging to ensure our kids are monitored safely as savvy kids can often find space between differing rules or lack of communication, to slip through and gain inappropriate independence.

The first step to protecting your kids is to think ahead and develop your ideas of what is acceptable before handing over the computer, tablet or smart phone. The second step is to clearly and plainly explain the rules to your children so there are no surprises and to help you feel confident in following through with the decisions you’ve made. Although it is not always possible, it is a great benefit to kids if both their homes have some similar ground rules given the nature of social media and its risks. The following are some examples of rules that can be a starting point for discussions between co-parents or to spark some ideas of how you wish to handle privacy and social media under your own roof.

  • Consider that if parents pay the bill and own the device they have the right to all passwords. It’s less about monitoring every message and more about the fact that kids act much more responsibly when they know they are being supervised.
  • If you do feel the need to read their messages, try your best to allow kids some leeway to post things that you might not like, but that aren’t harmful. For instance posting something negative about a teacher’s homework load or strictness is much less of an issue than finding your child is giving out personal information on line.
  • For children playing online games, be sure to explain the rules about sharing personal information or connecting with anyone with whom they do not have a real-life peer relationship.
  • The age for creating a Facebook page in most states is 13. It’s a good rule to follow and again you have a right to monitor your child’s posts. Younger children will survive being the ONLY kids in their school without a Facebook page. (More than likely they have a lot of company).Think about creating an agreement for amnesty. We want children to come to us when they find themselves in situations that they cannot handle. Situations such as unwanted contacts, being bullied or harassed on line or witnessing abuse would be good examples of times you want your kids to ask for support without consequences.
  • Create rules for where and when children can use their electronic devices. One of the biggest developmental risks for children is when screen time replaces regular frequent social interaction, distracts them from their needed tasks, or keeps them from being respectful and polite in public settings.
  • If your children ask for privacy remind them that the old fashioned way still works—they can talk on the phone, write a note or talk in person or close their bedroom door.
  • If they want to explore their own thoughts and feelings, encourage them to journal or keep a diary and that you will respect their private thoughts.

Although you and your co-parent may not agree across the board, the conversation can still be productive. You can show respect and support for each parent’s rules and keep kids from conflict. You can increase your ability to communicate and learn how they are monitored in each home. You can become more aware of possible risk issues and problem solve jointly or to the best of your ability in your own home. Creating good boundaries helps children explore independence safely and teaches a healthy respect for their own and other’s privacy.