What do you do when your 13 year old asks you if they can get a Twitter account? My reaction was - to put it mildly - robust. I figured that if my daughter was going to unleash herself onto internet the least I could do was have a conversation with her about what's OK and what's not OK to post on social media. This led to me asking her to sign a social media agreement.
Now don't panic. I'm not a crazy mother-from-hell type who gets all litigious with her kid. It was an informal document - it had to be, right? But it gave my daughter a framework; clear guidelines that spelt out what was OK, what was safe and what would happen if she didn't stick to it.
I know how I feel if I'm separated from my phone for more than a few minutes, so imagine being 13 and having an overwhelming compulsion to check in with your mates every nanosecond? When you give a teenager a smartphone what do you think is going to happen? Without guidance, young people will binge and inevitably, they'll make mistakes.
Honestly, don't we all??
At 13, my daughter was the minimum age to have a Twitter account so at least that box was ticked. But there were many things I felt I needed to talk to her about before she went online:
1. What's the difference between public and private? Any sharing of personal info is strictly a no-no and she and I will set privacy settings together.
2. What would she do in tricky situations? (Like if she saw that a friend has posted a picture of herself online, topless?)
3. The phone will be kept well and truly out of her room overnight and she'll have to use an actual retro-style alarm clock to wake up. Also, three words: SCREEN-FREE DINNERS.
4. How might she use the internet in creative, new ways?
5. What does 'friend' and 'follower' really mean anyway?
6. No tagging of friends. Let other people tag themselves if they want to.
7. The Golden Rule: "If I don't want my head-teacher or parents to see it, I won't post it on social media."
8. She won't keep a computer screen in her bedroom. If she's playing online, I want to know the same three things I'd want to know if she was off down the road at a mate's house: where is she going? who is she with? when will she be done?
9. Zero tolerance for cyberbullying.
And most importantly:
10. Would she be cool with me checking her social media accounts unannounced and at random times?
We talked about a whole bunch of stuff. This opened up conversations that led to other conversations and I it helped me understand how young people use the internet and how they feel about it. It's easy to forget that today's teenagers have grown up in a digital environment - I didn't.
The result? I have a daughter who enjoys social media. Almost a year on, she's found her online voice. She's good at it too - her posts are witty, pithy and often downright daft.
But is she mindful about what she posts online? You bet she is.
Emma Clarke is the author of the first social media self-help book for children and young people. Check it out here.