It’s important for families to come to an agreement about what’s acceptable and not acceptable when it comes to device use. One way to establish consensus is by creating a family screen time agreement. It can give parents a little more control over screen time and use while helping your child earn more trust and freedom.
What is a screen time agreement?
Also known as an online safety contract, a screen time agreement is really just an impetus for a good conversation between parent and child. Kids of all ages love devices and will always push for more access (or a first phone). While you may get a few eye rolls, most kids will do whatever it takes—including participating in awkward dinner table conversations—to keep that device in their hand.
A screen time agreement lets you discuss the basic parameters of what is right and wrong, establish family rules, and lay out consequences.
Having a physical agreement with signatures reinforces the importance and magnitude of your child’s new responsibility. It’s a grounding point and can minimize arguments if rules are broken, as punishments should come as no surprise.
Finally, a screen time agreement allows you to recognize positive behavior from your child and gauge how they are progressing as a digital citizen.
When to consider a screen time agreement
- For toddlers and kids—While many may be too young for a formal agreement, it’s important to discuss the basic family rules before their screen time increases and any time a new shared device enters the home. If your child is responsive to verbal family agreements, like turning off the TV or turning off the light to read in bed at night, they will also be receptive to screen time limits too.
- For preteens—Create an online family agreement before your child receives their first phone or connected device. Talk about what apps, YouTube channels and websites are appropriate; the importance of keeping personal information private; and how games apps often offer free services in exchange for your data.
- For teens—Discuss the good and bad aspects of social media, the impact posts can have on others’ feelings (including another teen’s fear of missing out aka FOMO), the permanence of posting online and how a strong sense of self-worth comes from within, not through the validation of “likes” and follows.
Download a screen time agreement
This template—created by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)—is available in English and Spanish.
Discuss each agreement at the top and fill out your own family device rules and consequences. Consider hanging the agreement in a prominent place like on the refrigerator.
What if your child breaks the agreement?
If the agreement is broken, some experts suggest losing access to all screens for a few hours or more, instead of losing access to a single device, such as the phone. Because, in most cases, your kids will find a way around it.
Revisit your rules, clarify any confusion and turn it into a lesson so that mistakes don’t happen again. In many cases, parents will have as much to learn as the child.
Check in every few months … and reward
Your screen time agreement is a living, breathing document. As your child grows and technology advances, your house rules will need to change. Revisit the agreements at the top of the agreement and ask your child questions about what they have been experiencing. What’s been the biggest challenge for them? What new freedoms and responsibilities do they want to work toward?
If they have adhered to the agreement, recognize their effort and consider giving them a reward. This isn’t just about stopping negative behavior—it’s about building positive habits and trust.
This article was authored by staff at the Family Online Safety Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to empower parents to confidently navigate the digital world with their kids. It was originally posted on their Good Digital Parenting blog and republished here with permission.