There were multiple times during my digital parenting journey when I would have loved to put my head in the sand. Pretend that life was easy and that my kids weren’t going to grow up and want devices and to join social media. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. With four kids who had technology running through their veins, I had no choice but to embrace it.
It’s All About Phones
While many kids will first experience the internet from a family laptop or via their parent’s phone at a coffee shop (we’ve all done it), it’s when they get these devices into their hot little hands unsupervised a few years down the track that the real show starts. And that’s usually when they get access to a phone. Research from our eSafety Office shows that just under half of Aussie kids between 6 and 13 use a smartphone with about 1/3 owning their own device.
And while we can all wax lyrical about the good old days when we used payphones and how great it would be if our kids didn’t have smartphones, we need to keep it real. Technology is not going anywhere so the best thing we can to accept it’s here, educates our kids about how to use it safely and introduce boundaries and rules to ensure they are as safe as possible.
So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the concept of a family technology contract – a great way to manage your kids and their tech use.
What Is a Family Technology Contract?
I like to think of a tech agreement as a clear outline of your expectations of your kids’ digital behavior – any behavior that occurs while using a device should be included in the agreement and yes, include TV here too! Now, before we progress, I have to share one key tip – don’t even think of putting together an agreement like this when tensions are high, or a heated argument is still in place – it will never work. Only talk about this or start working on it when you are in a calm and serene headspace.
The most important thing is to have an agreement that is suitable for your kids’ ages and maturity and one that works for your family’s schedule. There’s no point making your 5-year-old sign an agreement that limits their time on Instagram when they’re probably quite happy visiting only the online sites that you have ‘bookmarked’ for them. And if your kids have a super busy schedule then you might want to include a rule that means there is no ‘leisure screen time’ (eg TV/movie viewing) till all homework is complete.
How Old Do My Kids Need To Be?
While it’s entirely based on your kids’ interests and tech usage, I think 3 is a good age to start with a basic agreement. That’s when they start understanding rules. And how old is too old for a tech contract, I hear you ask? Well, I acknowledge that introducing new rules and boundaries when your kids are well into their teens may be difficult however if things feel out of control and you are concerned about their mental health and less than ideal digital habits then it may also be exactly what you all need!
What Should An Agreement Include?
Keeping an agreement age-appropriate and relevant is essential. You may also want to keep it simple and focus on a few key things, such as:
- Be kind online always
- Never share passwords with your friends
- Always tell an adult if you see anything that upsets or scares you
But it can include so much more. Here are some items you may choose to include in your own personalized version. Think of this list as a shopping list. Simply, pick & choose what works for the ages of your kids and your family’s structure.
Time Limits/Device Usage
- I will ask permission before I use my device (younger children).
- I can use the internet/my devices/TV for __ hours a day after school.
- I can’t use my devices past __ pm in the evening.
- When I am not using my device, I will place it ___________.
- I will place my device in the family charging zone overnight. (This could be on the kitchen bench in a study, whatever works for your family)
- I understand that any internet-enabled device (eg smartphone and laptop) can give me access to many things that may not be suitable for my age. I will use my devices safely and avoid clicking on any appropriate sites. (You could choose to list sites your kids can’t visit however this maybe, in fact, give them ideas! You choose what works best).
- I understand that it is my responsibility to protect my personal information and not share it freely online. This includes my name, family details, school, telephone numbers, and address.
- I will keep my password private and not share it with anyone outside my family.
- I understand that not everything is as it seems online and that being safe (and savvy) online means thinking critically and questioning whether it is true.
- I will not use a credit card online without permission from my parents.
- I will close down pop-up or banner ads and not click on them.
- I will not share my location while using my devices.
- I will allow my parents to adjust the privacy settings on this device and monitor my activity. I understand that this is for my own safety. If older: I will ensure privacy settings are always on and set to the highest level for every social media platform I use.
- If anyone pressures me or makes me feel uncomfortable, I will stop talking to them and tell a family member or trusted adult.
- I understand that people are not always who they say they are online.
- I will not talk to anyone online who I don’t know in real life.
- I will not meet up with anyone I first met online without permission from my parents.
- Being kind and respectful online is essential.
- I will only talk to people I know in real life when I am online (ideally, we’d want all our kids to agree to this but in reality, older teens won’t cop this. So, this is more suitable for younger kids)
- I will not be hurtful or mean to others on social media. This includes messaging, commenting, posting, liking, and sharing mean or hateful content.
- If I feel like I am being harassed or bullied online, I will tell a trusted adult.
- I will ask permission before I share pictures or videos of my friends.
- I will not share any content that is too revealing. This includes posting or sending inappropriate photos or messages.
- I will ensure my mobile phone stays in its protective case at all times. If it or the screen protector cracks or breaks, I will tell my parents.
- I will not use my phone when at school unless ___________________________.
- These places are no-phone zones:
- Our family does not use our phones during dinner.
- I will shut off my phone at __ pm and it will not be turned back on until ___ am. (You could also add here – after breakfast and/or until I am ready for school.
- I will get permission from my parents before I download any apps on my smartphone – this includes games.
- I can play games that are rated: _____. (Ratings on games range from G, PG, M, MA15+ to R here in Australia). Please do your research here and work out what’s suitable for your kids. Check out the Australian Classification Board’s latest ratings for games to help make your decision.
- Video games that I am not allowed to play at my home, or anyone else’s home include: (list what games are off-limits)
- I will ensure my privacy settings are set to the highest level.
- I will not talk to people I don’t know in real life while gaming.
I understand that access to my devices is a privilege and breaking this agreement will lead to the following consequences: (list what you feel is appropriate)
Formalizing The Agreement
I would have all parties sign and date the agreement: both parents and kids. You may choose to keep a copy on the fridge? Again, whatever works for your situation.
So, if you are feeling like this digital parenting thing is getting the better of you, please consider introducing an agreement. For decades, parenting experts have written about the virtues of establishing clear boundaries for our kids and in my opinion, a tailored family tech agreement absolutely does that!