Posted by: gerrib18 | January 18, 2010

Social Networking Contracts: Setting boundaries with family

A well written legal contract can help to assure a mutually satisfying experience with any given project.  It is the tie that binds us with our client, obligates us to perform to the best of our ability, a promise of what we will deliver and the agreement to deliver what we promise.  It is also an entrusted acknowledgment from our client that we will be rewarded upon completion of our obligations.  And it is with that, that I recently entered into a very eye-opening agreement with the most significant client that I’ll ever have.

Last week, as I continued typing away on my keyboard, I heard a piercing sound coming from my den.  At first I was oblivious to the noise because I was so focused on a writing a social media proposal for a prospective client while keeping up with the many interactions taking place that night on Twitter and Facebook.   However, when the sound evolved into a shriek, it became apparently familiar.  It was my ten-year-old daughter screaming for my attention.  I was so absorbed in my task that I didn’t realize she wanted me.

How many times have we all been engrossed in some kind of project that anything going on outside our peripheral view might as well be happening on another planet?  My mother calls it selective hearing – a syndrome she equates with my father when he’s watching a golf match on TV and is totally deaf to her voice, despite the fact that she’s only several feet away from him.  Such is the case when I’m working on the computer, tweeting, friending, blogging or whatever and completely hypnotized by its power.  As hard as I might (might being the key word) try to pull away, another tweet, article or website just draws me back in.  Who would have thought that something other than food would have such control over me – that social networking would be the Ben and Jerry’s to my new addiction.

Though I pride myself on being a loving and responsible parent, I realized that I was in over my head with the computer and that I needed to regain the respect of my daughter.  In my own strategically analytical way, I had a “focus” session with my little girl to find out, from her perspective, what is and is not acceptable in using the computer.  With notes in hand, and information abstracted from a number of contractual law blogs, I set out to create a pseudo-legally binding agreement between us – an agreement that would meet her wishes and still permit me to profit from my new obsession.

My daughter was very open to a written agreement so long as she had the final say in its substance.  In short, I agreed not to work on my computer between 5 PM and the time she goes to bed, unless she was doing her homework and didn’t need my help; and, she agreed to let me work without interruption until 5 PM unless it was an emergency.

Our emotions ran pretty thin as we created this agreement.  At such a young age, she very clearly articulated how I spent more time on the computer than with her.   The guilt set in – as it should have.  I learned how much my actions had negatively impacted my child.  Like so many other people that I notice on the internet constantly interacting with others, I was neglecting my daughter for a virtual social life.

In many ways, our children are not much different from our clients.  In order for us to position ourselves as authority figures, and become effective parents, we have to create trust within our homes.  Like social networking, we need to listen and become involved in the conversation.  And, in order to receive a payoff for our dedication, we need to make sure that our children believe that when we make a commitment to them, it is a promise that we will keep.  As regular posts and updates bring recognition and success to a social networking campaign, it is the daily interaction, play and gentle cues that create the ties that successfully bind us to our families.

Writing an AGREEMENT gave me and my daughter the opportunity to constructively share our feelings on paper and come to a consensus.  In establishing a healthy boundary of cooperation and trust between ourselves, and by signing on the dotted line, I also created a healthy boundary between myself and the internet.  My reward…a loving relationship with the most important person in my life.

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