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Why You Should Establish a Family Social Media Policy

You're hosting a house full of six-year-olds for a birthday party and they're doing their best impressions of the Avengers. Is it okay to take a quick video and tweet it or Facebook it, or should you be concerned about what the other parents might prefer?

Your family is packed up and heading to the airport for a week in the Caribbean. Is it time for a celebratory Facebook tweet update, or is it wiser to wait until you're back home?

You're watching Grandma open her birthday presents. Is it okay to snap a few shots and hashtag away, or should might Grandma think it more polite if you wait until after cake and ice cream to start tapping away on your phone?

We think it's best that families work out what their social media policy is before posting, and here's why.

Conflict Doesn't Belong Online

Families bicker. Usually when the kids are in the backseat on the way home from soccer in bumper-to-bumper traffic. During a road trip while it downpours outside. It's just part of life. But it's best if it remains part of life here in the real world and not life online—especially the parts of life online that are there for everyone else to see, like a Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. 'No arguing publicly online' is a good rule to have, and it's good for parents to talk to kids about how to respond (or not respond) when other people are behaving badly online.

Not Everyone Is Comfortable With Sharing

Everyone has a different threshold for what's okay to share. Some people post pictures of their breakfast everyday and some people just use Facebook to keep up with their grandkids. That's okay. But it's important to remember that individual family members might have different ideas about what's okay to share and what isn't. A recent study of social attitudes of parents and kids found that they agreed about most rules (e.g., texting and driving is bad), but there was one really interesting disagreement: parents thought it was fine to post things online about their kids. Kids didn't agree at all. These are conversations that need to be happening sooner rather than later.

Online Posts Affect Real-World Safety

We don't mean to sound like the evening news, but the online world can be a little dangerous. Fortunately, some smart social media rules can mitigate those online dangers. Is it okay for kids to strike up friendships with people they meet online? Is there a difference between who they meet on Facebook and who they meet one Xbox Live? Is it okay to post about your location? Is it okay to post about other people's location? These are all questions families should work out together. (Side note: you should review privacy settings for everyone in your family regularly).

A Family Social Media Policy Teaches Social Media Etiquette

Just as there is etiquette about how to behave in school, the workplace, the community centre, and sports teams, there is etiquette for interacting with others online. A family social media policy is a good way to teach kids what is—and isn't—acceptable behaviour, especially if they see their parents and extended family practicing acceptable behaviour. And if there's an extended family member who is less than cordial in their online behaviour, you can always use their actions as 'teachable moments'.

The fact is, when it comes to a family's social media policy, one size never fits all. We aren't going to pretend to know what rules work best for your family over another family. But we do know this: it's best to work out just what the rules are before these situations come up. Social media is just as much a part of our lives as face-to-face interactions are, and families should think about and take control over what role it should play in their lives.