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by Chante Hensley, MSW, Assistant Branch Director, BCS of East Tennessee

Students taking selfie on stairs

Source: Compassionate Eye Foundation/Steven Errico / Getty

When my husband, Matt, and I became foster parents, one of our first placements was a 16-year-old girl with a smartphone and access to the internet. We soon realized she needed specific guidance to know what was (and was not) appropriate to share with her friends. Kids don’t know what it means that the information and photos they post online will be accessible forever—even kids who have grown up in today’s culture of social media sharing.

Before I came to Bethany, I worked 10 years in foster care. And over the last four years, Matt and I have had more than 40 children in our home ranging from newborn to 17. We’ve lived and breathed the following seven steps to keep children in our care safe online.

1. Communicate your expectations.

When older children and teens come into our home, we tell them upfront that we will be monitoring their online activities. This is for their protection as well as to help them learn appropriate online behavior. From day one, the rules include:

They will give us the password to their phone.

They can earn Wi-Fi privileges with chores and good grades (we regularly change the password).

Phones must be turned in each day before bed.

Snapchat, an app where photos and text messages “disappear” seconds after they are received, is not allowed.

2. Negotiate a contract.

We put our expectations in writing, leaving some spaces where we can compromise. For example:

You will turn in your phone before bed. You pick the time.

We will monitor what websites you visit. You pick the frequency: daily or three times a week.

These kinds of choices give kids some say in the contract. We type it up, and everyone signs it. This is helpful to have when you need to remind them of what everyone agreed to. This is especially helpful for teens who have never had to follow rules in a family context.

3. Include both benefits and consequences.

We let the kids help negotiate these as well. For example:

Consequence: If you make up a different password you have not shared with us, your phone will be taken away.

Benefit: If you follow the rules, you will get to keep your phone, and we will continue to pay for it.

Other benefits might be adding more data or the ability to download more songs. These might be different for each child and correlate to something specific they want. As kids are with us longer, and establish trust, they gain more access and freedom.

4. Talk about how information spreads online.

Facebook often has posts with people trying to get one…

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Bethany Christian Services

Families come to Bethany hoping to adopt a child for many reasons. We work closely with these families to identify their strengths and the child they are most able to parent and we help place children of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds in the safety of a loving home.

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