'It's about trust': Media literacy group creates digital contracts between parents and children

Giving your child a new laptop or tablet this Christmas? A local media literacy group has created digital contracts for you and your children to establish healthy online habits. 

MediaSmarts has developed a contract with some guidelines for both the child and the parent to follow, including things such as "to be careful about sharing information about myself and others." 

Matthew Johnson, director of education at MediaSmarts, told CBC's All in a Day that when parents give kids or teens new devices, they want them to get off on the right foot.

He said establishing the rules on how parents want and don't want their child to use then becomes important. 

One of the most important rules, Johnson said, is that children should go to their parents when they're facing problems online.

"It can be anything, ranging from when kids are younger they may have technical problems that you don't want them to fix on their own because they might make things worse. But as kids get older, they're interacting with more people so they might get involved in online conflict," he said. 

These things can be difficult for pre-teens to deal with, according to Johnson. 

Access, not spying

One of the rules of the contract is that the parent promises not to spy on their child online unless they've given a good reason to think they can't trust them. 

Johnson said it's important that parents have access to their kids' social media accounts, but not spy on them. 

"You don't want to be watching their every move and you do want to make sure that they know that you're checking in occasionally," he said. "You want be transparent about it." 

If children find their parents spying on them on social media, they'll avoid that surveillance and maybe even stop going to them when they have a problem, he said.

Johnson said it's also important for parents to model the behaviour they want to see their children follow. 

For example, if parents expects their children to not have their phone or laptop at the dinner table, the rule should apply to the parents as well.

"Teenagers are hyper-aware of hypocrisy and so if they see that we're one our phone just constantly scrolling Twitter, or Facebook or whatever, they're going to call us out on it," Johnson said.  

He suggested finding ways that the family can use screens together. 

"Look for movies you enjoy together, looks for games you enjoy together, look for things where you're using screens together rather than everyone doing isolating things on their own."