Tuned-In Family: Setting Ground Rules

Tuned-In FamilyWhat follows is an excerpt from my new book: Tuned in Family: How to Cope, Communicate, and Connect in a Digital World.


When it comes to managing the communication technologies and tools in your family, the rules of use are an important component to teaching best practices, respect, and appreciation for what the tools can accomplish. They are also useful for dealing with the issues that can come with these tools. From health issues caused by too much screen time, to user immaturity and misunderstandings of what content is private or not, individuals run into issues all the time.

Setting strong ground rules within your family is the fastest way for your family as a whole to better appreciate the tools and respect the boundaries you all set together. These ground rules will need to be revisited and discussed often, especially if you have teenagers in the home!

While each family will need to determine the ground rules that work best for them, I’ve compiled a list of recommendations that I have utilized within my family. I’ve also created a handy chart, which you can download here or from my resources section at Tunedinfamily.com in the resources section, that you can work with as you develop your own rules.

My five basic ground rules:

  • The “real friends” rule: When engaging in any online social context the rule for your children until they are older teenagers should be the “real friends” rule. Whether it is video games (computer or console), social networks, music services or even texting, making sure everyone in the family understands the difference between real friends and virtual friends is important. The sooner young children understand this, the better off they will be as they grow older.
  • Read the EULA rule: This one we all have to do a better job on. Often the “legalese” can seem overwhelming, and we just click the box and move on. However, there are many interesting things buried in the EULA, such as who owns the content you post, age restrictions, privacy information, and how they use data collection to manage marketing and advertising efforts. All of this information is very important in a society that is moving more and more towards 24/7, always-on access.
  • What’s the value rule/Tell me why rule: This rule becomes more critical as children get older. But start them young and have them explain why a new tool would be valuable for them or why they need it. This is one that I have employed with my daughter a great deal – the fine print on it is that “because my friends are doing it” is not a good reason. This is also a good way to ask them if they’ve read the EULA (reinforcing rule #2 above).
  • Ask my permission rule. As we take sharing for granted we often forget that each of us has a different threshold for privacy and sharing. Making this a family rule means that all of you must ask permission before posting images or information about one another in social contexts. This is another one that will become more obviously important as your children get older. Giving them a sense of control over what you post and where you post sets a great foundation for some good conversations. It’s how my daughter and I have been operating for quite a few years now. I respect her privacy and her wishes on what I post on my social networks about her, especially with pictures. She does the same for me.
  • Screen time rule. Rather than set time limits with the assumption that all screen time is “play time” emphasize the importance of walking away from screens for health reasons. Extended time in front of a screen, whether it is for homework, watching movies, or playing video games is not healthy for the eyes, mind, or body. Taking breaks, moving around, and changing your “visual inputs” are the foundations for this rule.

These five basic rules have been very useful with my daughter and me. Perhaps you as a family will come up with more rules that fit your needs better. Use these as a starting point, and talk through the consequences for breaking the rules. And remember, everyone in the family (including parents) need to adhere to the rules and take the consequences for breaking them. We’ve had consequences that range from permanent loss of access to a social network to having to removed content and posts from different social media sites.

What are some of your family ground rules?  Feel free to share them below in the comments section.


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About Elaine Young
I am a professor of marketing, specializing in digital marketing and social media, at a small, private college in Burlington, VT. I blog about teaching and my areas of interest that include digital marketing, social media marketing, and the impact of social communication technology on society, families, and children. I am thrilled to have published my first book: "Tuned-In Family: How to Cope, Communicate, and Connect in a Digital World" which is now available at Lulu.com and can be purchased by clicking the link below, or by visiting my book website at TunedInFamily.com. In addition to teaching college students, I also conduct workshops and will speak to community groups and organizations. I'm also a Mom to an amazing 17-year-old daughter. My opinions are my own and do not represent my employer.
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