A Mother’s Wisdom for Life Online


I mentioned a few weeks ago that my husband and I were drafting some new screen rules for our family. We have tweaked here and there, let it sit, shared it with a few friends.  Then, there was a big, fruitful chat with the kids. Here’s a look inside our attempt to focus on building meaningful relationships and to spend more time reading things of substance.

 Screen Rules in our Home

1. Be intentional. Before you sit in front of a screen—iPhone, iPod, computer, or television, or anything else yet to be invented –ask yourself if this is really the best way to use your time.

2. All screens are to be turned off at 9:30 and plugged in in my room. All of them. Televisions obviously won’t be plugged in my room, but they will be off. We will make exceptions for big games, recognizing that there are lots of big games throughout the year. However, not every game is a big game and I’ve been around this horn before, so don’t try to persuade me otherwise.

3. You may have your screens back in the morning until 9:00 AM.  That means if you wake up early, you can catch up on your screen worlds before school and chores.  If you don’t get up and get going, you’re out of luck.  At 9:00, the only screen in front of you will be tuned to educational pursuits. Your iPhones and iPods are never necessary for those endeavors.

4. You may have your iPhones and iPods and cell phones again in the afternoon. Conditions for retrieving them: all school assignments finished. Chores for the day finished. The TV will not be turned on after dinner unless the dinner kitchen jobs are finished. I recognize that this is a very small window of evening television viewing. Read a book. I’m not kidding. 

5. Social media outlets: No public social media until one is 13. (Nicholas is grandfathered into Instagram for the next 6 months). You may join Instagram with my permission at 13. The little girls can have a private, non-searchable Instagram account for sharing with family members only.

 6. Facebook can be discussed at 16. So can Twitter. So can whatever new thing comes along. No promises. No guarantees. You need to earn your presence there by behaving responsibly elsewhere.

7. New social media outlets require expressed permission from Mom before you register. This includes Snapchat, Ask, etc. If that horse is out of the barn already, just watch me lead it back in.

8. Mom will know the password for all social media accounts. This is for your protection. When you do something stupid (and you will) I want to be able to do damage control immediately. I’m busy. It’s highly unlikely I’m going to read all your messages and such. On the other hand, you never know when I’ll be standing in a long line and want something to do. You just never know.

9. The phones belong to your parents. We pay for the service that makes them work. If you lose or break them, you replace them. If you abuse the rules, you don’t use them.

10. If that phone rings and it’s one of your parents, you answer immediately. If we can’t reach you on your phone, then when we finally do reach you, we will take the phone.

11. Cell phones and iPods used for texting will be limited to texts to mom or dad from soccer or dance until you are 13 (or older). [An exception will be allowed so that the little girls can text siblings who have moved away.]

 12. Use technology responsibly. With every keystroke, you are creating your own permanent record. Think carefully about this. We all say or do stupid things online. And we all grow and look back at some of what we’ve written and cringe. But if you follow some basic principles, you will minimize the cringe factor:

::Do not use this technology to deceive anyone. Ever. Always, always be truthful online. Don’t airbrush yourself (figuratively or literally.) If you don’t like the person you are, change yourself for real; don’t invent a new you online.

::Do not engage in conversations that hurt other people. Ever. Whether in person or online, there is no reason to hurt someone else. Ever. Did I mention never to engage in hurtful conversations?

::Don’t argue with someone via text message or IM or any electronic messaging. If someone is important enough in your life to spend time arguing, do it in person, where you can read all the other cues of communication. At the very least, call.

::Don’t say anything online or via text that you wouldn’t want someone’s parents to read or that you wouldn’t want a college admissions officer to read. Both those scenarios are likely to happen. You can be a kid, just be sure to be a good kid, all the time.

::If you are a girl, sit on your fingers a few days every month. You think it needs to be said, but really it doesn’t and you’ll wish you hadn’t said it when the hormone shower is over. Just don’t go there. Truly. If you really need to vent, do it in a safe place, out loud, with a trusted friend, in person. Don’t commit it to writing. I’ll be your trusted friend whenever you need it. Just don’t have a PMS meltdown online. Trust me on this one. You’ll thank yourself (and me) later.

::If you are in a social situation, surrounded by people or even just one person, put your phone away! Away. Learn to people watch, to read the room, to look someone in the eye and convey genuine interest. Put it away or I will take it away. And, if you see me messing up on this one, please remind me. You all are people. You are the most important people in my life. Remind me to be hands-free. You deserve nothing less

::Don’t post about your awesome good time with the intent of making someone who wasn’t there feel left out.  Be sensitive and avoid tagging and name-dropping when it makes you exclusive. Virtual cliques can be even more damaging than in-real-life ones. It’s okay to have fun with your friends without recording it all publicly. Don’t engage in a “who has how many ‘likes’” or “who is having the best time with the coolest people” competition. It’s so not worth it. Friendship isn’t quantifiable by clicks. It never has been. It never will be.

::And speaking of “likes: ”Sweetheart, your worth is not the sum total of the number of likes your selfie got or the number of friends or followers you have. You are so much more than that! No image, no incredibly clever status update, no blog post will ever, ever come close to capturing the wonder of you. If you ever doubt your value, click the computer closed, put your phone in our pocket, and come look me in the eye. I’ll show you how much you are worth.

:: When you are driving, you may plug your phone into the outlet in the back of the van. It will be there if you need it, when you pull over and are truly stopped. Being stopped at a stoplight doesn’t count as being stopped.

::The camera on your iPhone or iPod is a wonderful tool. Record your memories with a meaningful picture or two, but don’t spend your days looking at all of life through the lens of your device.

The world is bigger than that and more beautiful than what fits in the frame.
Put it away. Take snapshots in your mind.

:: Don’t share too much. A little mystery is a good thing.

::Have an open mind. One of the beautiful things about the Internet is the opportunity it affords for getting to know people you might otherwise not. You can listen on the Internet, learn another person’s point of view, and not engage in an argument. Just because someone is “wrong” on the Internet, doesn’t mean you have to spend hours of time (or even just a few minutes) correcting him. More often than not, that’s wasted time that would have been better spent tucking their point of view into the files of your mind so that you might pray to understand more than to be understood.

:: Remember that when you are publishing anything online, you not only represent yourself, you represent our family. Even more, you represent our faith.

The Internet is evolving. These rules will change. Honestly, I wish I’d had these rules as each new entity presented itself. It would have saved me from a lot of grief. Technology has afforded us so many new opportunities to forge bonds and further relationships, to grow in knowledge and even in understanding. Let’s pray together to have the wisdom to keep up with technology. 

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  1. says

    This is the best article I’ve read online about “online” life. LOVE!!!!! Great Job!!! It needed to be out there. I have felt everything you said… But I love how simply and straightforward you were able to put it in words.

  2. aliciamomof4 says

    Thank you! We have enlisted many of the screen rules that you have written…but not cohesively. This article will allow us to bring everything together and have something firm and in writing to follow. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and example of parenting that shows how much you love your children and your family. Keep up the good work!

  3. Heather says

    Wow! What a good list. It’s nice to know I’m not the only parent to feel this way. It’s not easy to have these expectations in this world.

  4. says

    I am so thankful you shared this list. My littles are still too little to need all the guidelines on phones, computers, etc. Yet, I know we’re already teaching them by our actions, by how WE use all of these devices. This has motivated me to start taking action on this now–for our sake and theirs. Thank you, again, for sharing the specifics!

  5. Lisa says

    This could not have come at a better time! With summer here I have lazed a little much on the kids and there screen time! I have been trying to come up with some new guidelines to implement with the start of school. This is a perfect outline! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  6. Vanessa says

    I have four sweet kids ranging in ages from 2-8. The inevitable requests for technology are already weighing on us. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for this article. I have saved it, pinned it and printed it for much future reference :)

  7. Jessica says

    This was lovely and exactly what I have been feeling too. Needing to establish some really solid rules not only for my kids, but also for myself so that we have accountability for all device use in our family. Thank you!

  8. moonriver226 says

    i’m sorry but this isn’t even close to realistic. this was obviously written by someone whose child hasn’t reached the middle school years yet. it’s cute to do these things with a young child but by middle school, you may find that a phone for your child is not a privilege but a necessity. and no texting til you’re thirteen? seriously, we are in the middle of the technological age. your kid’s childhood is not gonna be anything like yours. here’s what you gotta do: wing it. wing it!! there is no right or wrong. every child matures differently and can handle different responsibilities at different ages. it’s completely laughable that you have made rules for your children as much as ten years down the line. look, it’s not like we’re talking about tattoos or something. okay, keep your kid away from tattoos until they’re of an age you think is appropriate or forever, whatever. but technology? you’re just stunting your child’s growth through this technological age that is moving faster than the speed of light. by the time the child you wrote all these rules for turns thirteen or sixteen there’s gonna be a whoooole new technological beast to “protect” them from. i love when parents think they’ve “figured it out”. so funny…

    • Kristen Kill says

      While I appreciate your perspective and the passion of your comment, I just wanted to point out, as the discussion continues, that his article was actually written by a mother of 9, who has children ranging from raised and married, away at college, teens at home and school age. Elizabeth really has walked this road and gleaned wisdom along the way, often winging it herself through the last several years as new technologies have emerged. While it is in no way going to be a fit for every family, and we fervently support that we are each called to live by faith in our own homes as we approach these matters for our own children, we really wanted to have an older, experienced mom who has already “been there” address this issue. We asked Elizabeth to do that for us here by sharing her own story and fleshing out for us a bit how things *actually* work with her children, because they are all active on social media and we really appreciate her integrity and heart in shepherding them in that area. Its just her story- that’s all. But it IS a real story, representing a real family, that we love dearly and highly value here at Mom Heart :)

      My own story is not too different, except, I live in NYC, where there is arguably one of the most tech saavy populations of children and adults in our country, and where the need to use it is paramount. Every child (and I mean school age and above) seems to have an iphone and my own 13 year old’s “need” for one is based on her safety when walking in the city with friends. Its a non-negotiable rule that she has one on her whenever she is outside of our building! Besides a few tweaks to fit our culture and experience, the ideas in this post are just about how we roll too. I wondered what a young teen view of this piece would be, so I had my daughter read it before it went to press. She thought the rules seemed reasonable and were fairly “common” in the homes of her friends, Christian or otherwise, give or take a few things to fit circumstances and personality. Its encouraging to me that parents are being thoughtful in how we approach these times, and in communicating that beyond simply giving rules, our kids need to know we have their hearts in mind, and that by giving them tools to navigate all this technology, that our focus is on launching them well, not hindering them or holding them back. May we all receive wisdom from the Lord in how to ‘wing it’ by faith each day and wrestle through what is best for our families in this new age! – Kristen Kill, editor of Mom Heart Online

    • Elizabeth Foss says

      I have nine children from 4-24. My eldest child is employed by USAToday as a social media manager for their extremely successful website For The Win. The site was his brainchild. I assure you my children know the deal. And I also assure you that I hold myself to the same standards outlined here. My 16-year-old daughter has all my passwords. (Oh, and my three adult sons each have a cross tattooed on their shoulders. Definitely not my preference.). Thanks for your perspective. It’s always interesting to see how someone will read my words.

      • Testerteam5 says

        These are the goals for her children. Obviously you have different goals for yours. I totally agree with this blog. I’m a conservative Christian Homeschool mom. The last thing I want my kids to experience is this horrible nasty world we live in. We will teach them how to deal with it. We will die trying to keep them from most of it.
        Thank you Elizabeth for such a Biblically sound way of dealing with the issue.

  9. Carrie says

    Oh my! This is amazing! I’m passing your post onto my mom and younger siblings (there are still three at home) and also keeping this list to help my husband and I form our own when our little people are older and entering the social media/online/phone world! Thank you! =)

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