The following Q&A will be stored in the Archives when possible; for now, it is stored here.
I am the guardian of my grandson, age 11. He uses electronics, ie, instagram, kik, snapchat, xbox, email, facebook...I do not want him to have all these access sites. He has signed on without my permission. This is all new to me, but I am trying to be on top of it. I told him I needed his sign on so I could monitor, but he changes it. I have found inappropriate stuff for his age; please help me set rules and guidelines as I feel so not equipped, not sure what to do. Thank you.
Hi, thanks for your great question! Here you are, a grarndparent trying to rear a grandson, while many parents have the questions you have and, believe me, just about the same capacity to understand this brave new world of electronics in which their children live. God bless you for taking on the awesome responsibility of rearing this child, and don't feel bad for a minute about wanting help with setting limits on "screen time" and access to sites on the Internet or to electronic games. I think it's great that you know so many of the names of the different sites and applications! I thought I knew most of them, but a few are new to me too.
I think your best bet is to sit with your grandson and talk about this whole issue.
Set aside a few hours for this talk, and ask him to join you; choose a time that is also not too inconvenient for him. Tell him of your love for him and also your sense of responsibility for his welfare. Do not pretend to have knowledge you don't have of things electronic; instead, lean on him to introduce you to each device, web site, or application he uses or visits. Ask him for information about what each device or program gives him, why he enjoys it, how he learned to use it, and whether his friends or school mates also use each one. Make a little list for yourself in advance of the talk, including all the names of things you used in your letter to me, so that you can get all of your questions answered and he won't skip over some.
Tell him that you realize you don't know much about this electronic world or these various applications, but that you do have a sense of wanting him to use these things constructively and that you are aware that not everything he has access to electronically is constructive so you are wanting to discuss with him what limits will be appropriate.
Share with him that YOU CANNOT CONTROL his access entirely, or maybe at all, because you realize he can always gain access to applications and web sites through friends' devices or even at the public library or in the computer room at school.
On the other hand, explain to him that you are trying to be a responsible grandparent, so you do feel you need to have a sense of what he's up to in each electronic area while he is in your house. And that you think it reasonable to set limits on what he has access to and also how long, during each day, he can spend in front of a screen of any kind: computer, tv, xbox, other video games, mobile phone, etc....
You can negotiate both kinds of limits with him, i.e., as to what he accesses and for how long. The limits may differ on school days vs. weekend days. Talk until you get at least reluctant agreement from him about the amount of screen time available to him each day, then discuss consequences for exceeding that time: for instance, if he sneaks around to get more access time and you discover this, he will lose some portion of his access time the next day.
Setting limits on what he accesses is much more difficult. First of all, you won't necessarily know what he is accessing. But if you already know he has visited inappropriate sites, then you do have some ability here, so tell him that intermittently you will be checking the history on the web browser (if you know how to do that--or whatever it is you know how to do), and if he has accessed stuff you have agreed is off limits in your house, then he will lose the use of whatever device he accessed this stuff on for a period of days. Also, if you need his password to check, and you find you are locked out because he has changed the password, let him know, during this talk, that that will be considered an infringement of the agreement and will result in his losing access for a few days to whatever device he has locked you out of.
Consequences for overstepping the limits you set up with him do not have to be huge--just enforceable and consistent. This means you have to find a way to deny him access to a particular device. Here you might want to ask for technical assistance from someone in the community, family, or school, perhaps, to educate you on how you can prevent access completely....by removing an essential component, for example, or, if the device is small, simply locking it away somewhere that he can't get unlock.
Avoid moralizing; just agree to the limits and then enforce the consequences. I don't know why he is not being reared by his parents, but there must be a story there and one which he may be trying to distract himself from by, for instance, keeping himself busy with screens of one kind or another.
Every now and then, you want to be asking him how he thinks he's doing, how he's feeling about things, and LISTEN uncritically to whatever he says. If he seems troubled or upset, you might ask him if he would like to talk to someone who may understand his situation, such as a counselor at school or in the community, just to have somebody outside the family to talk to.
Hope this is a little helpful, and good luck! Parenting adolescents is never easy, but he's lucky he has you, and so are his parents.
Let me know how it works out, if you feel like it, and thanks again for the question.
Disclaimer: Ms. Walbridge's response to your question is intended to be educational and informative. It is in no way a substitute for face to face consultation with a mental health professional.