Creating a Media Agreement With Your Kids
A Safe Place to Play
Boundaries and agreements are one of the foundational principles of sexual health. Boundaries are in place for us and our children from the moment we are born. Remember that crib you slept in that had high walls that wouldn’t let you climb out? Those crib walls were some of your first boundaries with the world. Boundaries identify the space in which we can safely play and they draw the line where we need to stop.
It’s also important to note that pushing against boundaries is normal for children and part of healthy development. We hope kids eventually identify their own boundaries, and eagerly uphold them. But for many if not all, the adolescent years are a stage of development where one developmental task is to push against boundaries and move toward more independence. Kids may not want any (or minimal) boundaries in their life. They may see boundaries as ways parents try to control them and punish them. I encourage parents to see this boundary challenging behavior for what it is, so that when your adolescent says to you “I know what I’m doing. I don’t need your help,” you can know they are developmentally on track.
Where Really Are The Boundaries?
Let me share a recent story about boundary testing that we recently went through with our oldest child. It was his first year in middle school, which also came smack in the middle of the pandemic. Because of the pandemic related conditions, an online learning option was being offered by the school and and he asked on more than one occasion if he could do online learning. As his parents we knew that it would be best for him to be in the school environment where he was able to be immersed in the classroom, have casual social interactions in-between classes, and be present with his teacher. He would get upset by this and asked consistently if he could go to online school. We consistently said that online school wasn’t an option. He did his job as an adolescent and we did our job as parents holding the boundary because we could see the bigger picture. Once school was over, we were driving in the car and he said, “Thank you for not letting me do online school. The times we had to do it, I couldn’t ever focus and it was so hard. I don’t think I would have learned anything if I was entirely online.”
I share this because, sometimes as parents, we need to put the boundaries in place. Often we have more perspective, know our kids need different things, and we see where they are struggling with different aspects of life.
When it comes to media, helping our kids establish healthy boundaries can support them in becoming good digital citizens and living full, productive lives.
Media literacy, and knowing how to navigate their digital world, is an essential part of their sexual health. We want to help them identify what media boundaries they want to set so they can:
- stay on-top of their schooling and absorb the material
- be involved in hobbies and activities
- engage with friends and family
- be present at their work or in other situations
- learn about sexual health from sources that are age appropriate, realistic and legal. This means teaching about sexual imagery and how they should navigate it.
Boundaries create safe structures for our children that allow them to clearly navigate their digital and actual landscape. If you’re anything like us, we didn’t start with enough structure around media use with our kids and found ourselves in a constant power struggle. It caused regular frustration because I didn’t want that fight to be the focal point of our relationship.
When we create a clear vision of what we want for our kids, and work towards that, we have better success with moving away from what we don’t want.
As parents, we took a step back and revisited what we DID want for our kids when it came to media, because it was clear what we did NOT want. Remember, when we create a clear vision of what we want for our kids, and work toward that, we have better success with moving away from what we don’t want. We want our kids to grow up having a healthy relationship with media. We want them to see it as something that can enhance their life, while also knowing that leaving it unchecked could also lead to it consuming their life. We want them to use media to connect with friends and family, but not to let it take the place of connecting in person. At the core, we believe that media is a great thing, and it is our job to help guide them on how to use it well before they leave our house.
This is where media agreements enter the scene. If boundaries are about “me”, agreements are about “we.” Agreements include boundaries and create clear understanding and expectations within a relationship. Each person knows and agrees to what they are saying yes, and then become accountable for upholding their portion. If they don’t like a portion of the agreement, there can be a conversation about it.
If boundaries are about “me”, agreements are about “we.” Agreements include boundaries and create clear understanding and expectations within a relationship.
I researched and found some media agreements that you can use in your homes to move towards media literacy with your children. These agreements are only as good as their users. Just like a hammer isn’t effective without an effective user, these agreements require parents to jump in, be present, and stay the course as their kids grow into being digital citizens. I encourage you to go through these with your kids using them as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and introduce many more conversations with them. Once you’ve gone through them and found the boundaries you want to adopt, hang them up somewhere in your home and revisit them often. Be willing to doing simple check-in’s. See how things are going and where you need to make adjustments.
HERE ARE A MY FAVORITE RESOURCES FOR MEDIA AGREEMENTS WITH KIDS
Common Sense Media Common Sense Media is my favorite resource to help kids think critically about the media they are consuming so it’s no surprise that their agreement made my top 5 life. Their agreement goes from K-12th grade and is approached in a building block style allowing kids to build on what they have learned and agreed to as they continue to grow. The three areas this agreement focuses on are staying safe, staying balanced, and staying smart.
iMom Social Media Contract For Kids This agreement focuses specifically on social media. Social media is a subcategory of its own with different areas of discussion that need to be taught and reviewed.
Psychology Today - The Best Technology-Screen Time Agreement For Kids This is a 10 point checklist to help families start creating their culture around technology. It tackles weeknights and weekends, travel, screen-time blackouts like meal time or time with friends, when gaming is allowed, screen time privilege, where devices are stored and more.
HealthyChildren.org Family Media Plan This plan allows you to customize a media plan for all of your kids starting as toddlers all the way through age 18. You enter your child’s name, choose their age, then check which items are relevant for them under each category. This plan works with your family values and the unique differences of age and personalities of each of your children.