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Create a Screentime Contract With Your Child

As your child receives a new (or second-hand) technological device, it is a powerful opportunity to have a discussion about the role and use of these devices in their lives.

We live in a connected, high-tech world where screens are present in every corner of our lives. Even our children spend hours per day in front of smartphones, tablets, televisions, and other devices. A screentime contract is a great way to bring the family together to talk about technology as an individual and collective practice.

Conversation, not Contract

Please note, that post about a screentime contract, but it should be described as a screentime conversation. The goal is to collectively create and understand the rules or guidelines around using these devices and accessing the Internet.

All family dynamics are different. These relationships, and the devices we use in our lives are also fluid…they change over time. This contract should be a document that is created through discussion, constantly referenced in the act of screentime, and reviewed regularly throughout the year.

Ground Rules

A screentime contract should be created through discussion and agreement by children and their responsible adults. There are several guidelines, or ground rules you should have as you go into this contract.

Depending on the age of your child, you should set the password for any account she or he will access. Make it clear that they are not to modify or change the password. As your child gets older, you may consider letting them set their own passwords.

You may have the right to look through the phone, tablet, or computer to see where your child is hanging out online, and who they are talking to. Once again, the goal should not be surveillance, but you want to make sure your child is safe…just as you would if they were walking around the neighborhood.

These digital texts and tools should be used to talk to family and friends. They should not be used to talk to strangers. Your child should not provide personal information to any individual, forum, or website without contacting you first. Help your child develop the observational and reflective skills necessary to recognize safety from danger.

Screentime can be very beneficial, but there are also times when we need time away from screens. You may identify a times like dinner time, or an hour before bed when you need to turn off all screens. For teens that may have their driver’s license, this should involve no texting or talking on devices when driving.

Finally, most families have rules and punishments that exist when we break these rules. In a screentime contract, you should agree on the rules around having a device and consequences for misuse. The consequences can include the loss of privileges associated with their device, or possibly even losing access to the device for a set time period.

Develop your own screentime contract

There are a lot of great resources online to talk with your child, and collectively agree on a screentime contract.

Thoughtful screentime conversations

Before you hand over these devices to children, make sure you have an agreement in place for its safe and responsible use. Remind your child that you’re a team and that you’re in this together. Mistakes will happen, but you’re there to discuss it with them and learn together.

The screentime contract should focus on the opportunities and challenges that exist as we use these digital tools and devices. While the Internet offers amazing possibilities for learning and connecting, keeping your child safe online is a crucial component to allowing access. Be honest and let your child know your thinking about these rules, and your concerns as well.

About the author

Ian O'Byrne

Dr. W. Ian O’Byrne is a educator, researcher, & speaker. His work centers on teaching, learning, and technology. He investigates the literacy practices of individuals as they read, write, and communicate in online & hybrid spaces.

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