When our children are young it is important that we set the limits and boundaries of how much time is appropriate for the activities they are involved in. As they grow up we adapt these boundaries including them more and more in the decision making process and negotiating. Our goal is for them to manage their time well when they turn 18 and become young independent adults. We can apply this to everything they do, watching TV, doing their homework, playing sport, curfews for parties, and so on. The trick is how to get it right when applying it to their use of the internet and more importantly how to do it and avoid as much as possible the fights and arguments.
In the section on filters the easiest way, is to install a programme such as OpenDNS.com In essence this program allows you to control access to all the internet devices in your home. including phones. You can control timing and content. This is probably best used for children between the ages of 5 and 13.
At 13 you want to begin including them in some of the decisions.
Calling it Internet Privileges helps to put a positive spin on subject. So how much is too much, how much is not enough, how much is appropriate and at what age?
Well, let’s get one thing straight – to a teen ‘more is never enough’. (in fact not to put too fine a point on it you can actually apply this to almost anything a teen wants!) This is important for us as parents to know because no matter how much we agonise over the decision about whether we will accept an hour or 90 minutes or 2 hours no teen will ever be happy with any limit. So now that we have that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
Here is one way forward in 4 stages:
Stage One – The Ground Rules
- Set a time when you expect your teen to be in bed.
- Situate the computer with the internet connection in a public space. How many times have you heard this? Have you done it?
- Avoid wireless if you can as this takes away the ‘public space’ concept. Your teen can disappear into their bedroom or worse, sit on the couch and access the internet and watch television!
- No matter what the teen tells you, flicking in and out of Social Media sites or Games at the same time as doing homework is NOT ON! Establish this as a hard and fast rule.
- No use of Social Media or Games in the morning.
- Ensure that your teen knows that you expect them to do a range of things at home after school which include, reading, having dinner with the family, chores, sport, homework and internet communication with friends.
- Discuss the difference between using the internet for homework and using it to communicate with friends or play games.
Stage Two – The Limit (or the Privilege)
Now the foundations are laid decide on your limit. Given your child has a variety of things to do I would suggest that no more than a quarter of the time between getting home and bedtime should be allocated to Social Media or Games. This would usually be somewhere between 45 to 60 minutes each weekday and 90 minutes on the weekend. It may differ each day due to Sport training, rehearsals and so on and you might like to take that into account too. Once the limit is set move to Stage 3.
Stage Three – Applying the limit
Year 7 to 9 – You decide the time limit – no discussion. You also set the time it is to be used, e.g. between 6pm and 7pm or 4pm and 4.30pm. No discussion.
Year 10 to 12 – Get them to set the limit in discussion with you – my experience says that most teens will be harder on themselves than you are and most will go with some sort of variation on the Quarter Rule. Some will say, I will only use it Friday – Sunday or I’ll check Facebook when I get home during the week but I only for 30 minutes. Once you have negotiated and agreed on a limit allow them to use that time anytime between the time they get home and bedtime EXCEPT during homework of course. In other words allow them the responsibility of monitoring their time.
Stage Four – The Consequences
Some teens are more addicted to Social Media and/or Games than others. It is evident to me that the worst addiction occurs between the ages of 13 to 16. Before 13 they tend to dabble, and some time leading up to 16 they seem to lose interest. During the middle phase they will inevitably break the rules at some point. The consequences are straightforward and logical – privileges are withdrawn. For the 13 to 15 year olds they may lose – anywhere between a day and a week. For older teens you may also want to withdraw the ‘anytime privilege’ and designate the time period until you feel they are ready to be trusted again.
If it sounds like an exhausting process, it is because it is a complex area of your teen’s life. There are many raging emotions surrounding the internet (their privacy and their friends are paramount to a teen) and a logical, clear sequence needs to be worked through in order for all parties to be on the same page. You will, I can sadly guarantee, have to revisit all these stages from time to time during their teens but working through all the stages systematically in the early days does make life easier for all in the long run.