So, what is Santa bringing your kids this Christmas, or what did they get for Hanukkah (as the case might be)? A new smartphone? A new tablet? A new computer? A new gaming device? Everywhere I look, electronics of one kind or another are the most wanted gifts this holiday season and, for many of you, it will be the big gift you will be buying this year (if you haven’t already).
I have a suggestion: without wanting to put you in the position of being a Grinch, may I suggest that your gift, be it phone or tablet or computer or gaming system, come with something attached — a contract between you and the young gift recipient outlining how you expect the gift to be used, or not used — and, in return, your pledge on how you will limit your involvement in how the gift is to be used.
Let me give an example. Let's say your gift is a new smartphone. You might want to set limits on how and when the phone can be used, or how many texts can be sent and when. You may also mention, perhaps, what apps may or may not be used on it. If the recipient is older, you might want to set an absolute rule of no talking or texting while driving. In return, you can agree also not to talk or text while driving (in many states and jurisdictions it's the law, you know) and you might agree not to ease drop on their phone use.
Whatever the gift is, I'm sure you have concerns about how it is to be used. Depending on the age of your child and what the gift is, you need to set limits and you hopefully can do so in a way that it is part of what should be an ongoing dialogue with your child that changes as they get older. What better time to start this dialogue than now, when they are first getting the device they have probably had their hearts set on for some time.
This goes back to what I have said on many occasions, the best way to help keep your kids safe online is to work with them. You can get them to understand what should and should not be done, what is safe behavior and what is risky behavior, how they should and should not interact with their friends. What better time is there than when they open their new gift? And what better way can you help them understand how important their behavior is than by essentially preparing a contract with them.
I am a proponent of the carrot and stick approach. Rather than just saying you can't do this or that, you can try to make them understand that your motive is to keep them safe — not limit their fun. And you can let them know that if they will agree to some simple rules, you will agree to limit your direct oversight of their use of their new device.
If you want, especially with younger children, you can draw up a formal agreement. Incorporate the limits you want to set on the use of the device while at the same time indicating the limits you are setting on yourself in how you will interact with their use of the device. Have the child sign the agreement and then you should also sign it.
For an older child, drawing up a contract may seem a bit much, but this is the perfect time to start this dialogue on safety and responsibility that needs to be ongoing.
Happy holidays and happy gift-giving.