Middle school boy with headphones

Developmental Stages of Access to Social Media Grades 7-8, Part III

In There's a Stranger in My House by Dr James Wellborn

This column continues the series about setting limits on your kid’s access to and use of social media and the internet.  The topic for this column is video games and social media accounts.  It is the third part of the expectations and recommendations for kids in grades 7 and 8.  If strategies or information have been covered in previous columns from earlier ages, you will be referred back to those columns for specific details.

Video Games.  So your kid has been playing non-violent, offline video games up to this point because you are carefully regulating the values, behavior and attitudes your kid is exposed to.  (See column on video games for 5-6 graders here).  You should be expecting your kid to play these games using the same qualities of fair play and character you expect of them in any other area of their life, namely a high degree of integrity, honesty and fair play, assertiveness without aggression, generosity, cooperation and encouragement, appropriate expressions of frustration and anger and being a “good loser.”  When they cross the lines of these qualities while playing have a detailed talk about character and the kind of person you expect them to be.  Then put them on probation for 3 days with Extreme Monitoring.  If they correct their behavior, give them relatively free rein in playing these value neutral games (e.g., sports, construction/strategy, vehicle operation and exercise/skills development, etc.)  If they still can’t handle it, you have discovered a problem you may not have known about.  Shut down video game playing and start and intensive character development program that requires them to demonstrate these qualities in real life before you allow them to return to video game play.

If your kid is interested in playing video games at all, they will be pressuring you to play the shooter and role playing games (e.g., HALO, Call of Duty, etc.).  However, if your kid has problems with aggression, anger or emotional insensitivity do not allow them to play shooter or role playing games.  These games will make those qualities worse.  If your kid has been demonstrating responsibility, anger and frustration management and has non-violent, offline gaming appropriately, it is time to consider allowing them to begin playing the shooter games (e.g., Halo, Call of Duty, etc.).

Start by having a serious conversation with your kid about concerns over how video games can affect them.  (For more on this conversation, refer to the Technology Issues section of my book.)  (If they try to argue with you, tell them that is a sign they have poor judgment and self-control which means they are not ready for playing these kinds of games.)  Talk about your expectations for appropriate language and behavior toward others (and others behavior toward them) when playing online.  Require them to have a balanced approach to video game playing meaning they better have some other, productive activities in their life or the video game playing will cease.  Then, once they are mature enough (defined as being competitive without being aggressive, frustrated without being angry and cooperative and encouraging toward other players) have them start playing under Extreme Monitoring (i.e., playing in a common area where you keep an eye on them off and on while they are online).  You should be able to transition to High Monitoring in a relatively short time.  Be sure to check in on their playing by sitting and watching them play.  Expect to discover that they have slipped into the pattern of play marked by a glorification and encouragement of violence, cruelty, insults, denigration, characterization of hesitance and compassion as weakness and generally amoral behavior by their characters.  It will be time for another talk and ongoing monitoring to ensure they are showing the characteristics and behavior you expect of any child of yours.  This is one of the most direct opportunity you will have as a parent to actually intervene in unacceptable behavior with peers.  In the old days, you had to wait until you could overhear how they really talked and acted through an open window.  Get right on this!

Social Media Accounts.  Alright.  The day of doom has arrived.  They are going to need a social media account.  Some people (like me, for example) have written whole chapters on setting up and monitoring your kid’s presence online through their social media accounts.  The short version is to begin by having the talk.  Topics should include:  privacy, dangers, personal trust and good judgment, online friends versus real friends, the permanence of written records on the internet and sexual communication.  Then set up a system for earning their way to greater independence and lack of monitoring.  Set up their account with them.  Have an understanding about how you expect them to act and what you expect them to do in various situations that might arise (e.g., personal information requests, bullying, language, etc.).  You should have every password to every account they open.  You should be a friend on every account.  Consider setting limits on time managing the accounts.  Have a No Access policy toward video or imaging functions (e.g., no Skyping, trading photos, etc.).  Then have a tiered system of consequences for violations.  (Again, specifics can be found in my book.)  If they have violated your policies a third time in 12 months, it is time to shut all the systems down and consider consulting with a mental health professional to see why they are having such trouble sticking to the rules.

Blogs, chat rooms and other online diaries.  I’ll keep saying this throughout all the developmental stages.  No Access.  Here is one reason why.

 

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