Contracts for Connected Families

contracts for connected families sm

In general, families run better with good rules, so it’s not surprising that parents want to make rules about how kids use technology. Lots of organizations have offered well-intended versions of online do’s and don’ts. And plenty of parents have written about their efforts to create guidelines governing what kids can and can’t do with computers, video games and cellphones. (Perhaps the most celebrated recent attempts was a list of iPhone rules, written by Janel Hoffman, that went viral earlier this year.)

Although rules have their place, they don’t last long online. A rule that seemed perfectly reasonable yesterday may be outdated (and easy to ignore) tomorrow. In such a rapidly evolving environment, many parents are turning to something more flexible—contracts that they write—and rewrite—with their children. One particularly engaging example of this kind of contract was written by Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark, author of The Parenting App: Understanding Families in the Digital Age.

Clark says her goal was to “put learning first,” by encouraging her kids to think for themselves about what kinds of online experiences were good for their family. She was also open to the possibility that her kids would want to make rules about her use of technology. Although her approach might not work in every family, it does lay the groundwork for open conversations, making it more likely that children will turn to parents if they encounter online situations that are confusing or risky. 

The kind of Technology Contract likely to work in your household will, of course, depend upon the ages and inclinations of your kids. Regardless of age, here are some questions that need to be considered:

What interactive devices are being used in our family?
You’ll want different rules for cellphones, tablets, computers and gaming systems. If family members share equipment, you may need to establish priorities—for example, homework takes precedence over games and social media. Your contract can also specify how you will share interactive experiences. Will you play games together? Share videos? Create a shared album of favorite digital photos?

What kind of supervision makes sense?
The right kind of supervision makes kids feel safer and reinforces a sense of conscience. Will you check phone bill for calls to numbers you don’t recognize? Will you use monitoring software that alerts you if your child strays onto an adult website or sends too much personal information? Be open about what you plan to do and why.

How much time should we spend online?
Think about when it’s OK or even necessary to be connected. When is it important to be offline? As individuals? As a family? Some parents set up a docking station for cellphones in the kitchen or family room. At agreed upon times, all devices go to sleep.

What information are we willing to share online?
What one person posts on a social media site often has implications for other family members, so it’s important to discuss what can be shared online. Is it ever appropriate to post an address or phone number? How much are you willing to divulge about where you live, what you are doing and family activities including vacations? When is it OK for parents to post pictures of kids and vice versa?

How will we keep our family Internet system secure?
You have rules about locking the door when you leave the house. Establish similar policies about online security. Is it ever OK to share passwords with anyone except parents? What are house rules about downloads including games, music and videos? Kids need to know that these often carry malware, which can compromise family security.

Who is allowed to purchase things online?
Think about physical items—clothing, posters—as well as virtual goods—games, music, books. Younger children should get permission for any purchase. For teens, an online allowance may be appropriate. Like any allowance, agree in advance on terms—is the money contingent on behavior, chores, grades?

What kinds of online activity should kids report to parents?
Being online involves trust because parents can’t supervise the way they can in other settings. Establish the expectation that your children will come to you immediately if they encounter bullying, sexting or any kind of invitation from online strangers.

What are the penalties for breaking the contract?
Losing access to a device is an obvious consequence (for adults as well as kids). Your contract might also include the possibility of additional monitoring for family members who don’t follow the rules.

When will we renegotiate the contract?
As kids demonstrate online responsibility, they should be able to earn new technology privileges.

To be honest, in many families, your kids (or your spouse) will roll their eyes if you suggest drawing up an actual contract. Remember that the point of this exercise isn’t necessarily to get something in writing. Instead, you want to have ongoing conversations that help you understand how your children are using technology. Only then can you make rules that will help your kids become as safe and responsible online as they are in the real world.


 Technology Contracts for Families

If you aren’t inclined to write your own Technology Contract, you may find a template that works for your family on these websites. More likely, one of these documents will prompt the conversations you need to customize your own contract.

American Academy of Pediatrics: Guidelines that incorporate AAP policy
www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Media-Time-Family-Pledge.aspx

Common Sense Media: Three concise, easy-to-understand contracts designed for elementary, middle and high school students
www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/parent-media-education/family-media-agreements

Family Online Safety Institute: Two parallel contracts, one for kids and one for parents
www.fosi.org/images/stories/resources/family-online-safety-contract.pdf

Internet Safety Game Plan: A starter contract suitable for younger children www.internetsafety.com/internet-monitoring-game-plan.php

Modern Parent: A simple one-page contract, written in plain English
themodernparent.net/an-internet-contract-for-families-teaching-our-kids-to-play-safe/

Safekids.com: Pledges for teens, younger children and parents
www.safekids.com/family-contract-for-online-safety/



-----------------
Carolyn Jabs, M.A., raised three computer savvy kids including one with special needs.

Published: August 2013

8 Simple Secrets of Happy Families

8 Simple Secrets of Happy Families

Happiness varies depending on personal circumstances. But why are some families more resilient and happier despite the obstacles life throws their way? Here are simple secrets of happy families. 1. . . .

Read more

7 Tips to Overcome Fear of the Dark

7 Tips to Overcome Fear of the Dark

Avoid ideas like "monster spray" which only affirm in a child's mind that monsters are real and need to be "sprayed away."  - Berkley James, pediatric sleep consultant  Fear of the dark i . . .

Read more

Extended Bedwetting

Extended Bedwetting

Help for older kids who wet the bed Bedwetting among older children is more common than parents realize.   Over 7 million children, ages 5-17, in the U.S. are affected. Boys wet the bed 2/ . . .

Read more

Great Dates for Dads and Daughters

Great Dates for Dads and Daughters

A father spending one-on-one time with his daughter is an awesome way to make his girl feel special and a priceless opportunity to demonstrate how he would like her to be treated as she grows up. Ne . . .

Read more

Tips for Sending a Child with Food Allergies to Camp

Tips for Sending a Child with Food Allergies to Camp

Mention summer camp and kids get excited about activities, art, s’mores and friends. But for parents of kids with food allergies, the prospect of sending a child to day camp or overnight camp can . . .

Read more

Every Child with Special Needs is Entitled to A Free and Appropriate Education

Every Child with Special Needs is Entitled to A Free and Appropriate Education

Today, 1 in 50 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic and social groups and is four times more l . . .

Read more

Prepare Your Child to Go Back-to-school After Winter Break

Prepare Your Child to Go Back-to-school After Winter Break

For most students, January means a return to school after a winter vacation. Because there are few three-day weekends or other interruptions, the months between winter and spring breaks are the time . . .

Read more

5 Ways to Help Your Child Make the Team

5 Ways to Help Your Child Make the Team

As the school year starts up, our throats begin to tighten. Fall sports tryouts are underway, and our children are stressed. Chances are, you’re feeling just as anxious for tryouts as your kids.&n . . .

Read more

Expert Savings Tips for Back-to-school Shopping

Expert Savings Tips for Back-to-school Shopping

Summer’s almost over, and kids will find themselves back in classrooms in no time. For parents this means they must confront the dreaded back-to-school shopping list. Considering the average famil . . .

Read more

Contracts for Connected Families

Contracts for Connected Families

In general, families run better with good rules, so it’s not surprising that parents want to make rules about how kids use technology. Lots of organizations have offered well-intended versions of . . .

Read more

Protect Your Family Against Summer Stings, Bites and Bugs

Protect Your Family Against Summer Stings, Bites and Bugs

Toxicologists at UCSD Medical Center and the San Diego Division of the California Poison Control System recommend taking a few simple precautions to protect your family against summer stings, bites . . .

Read more

The Do's and Dont's of Raising a Difficult Child

The Do's and Dont's of Raising a Difficult Child

I strive to be a great parent. I have moments of glory and others of massive doubt and worry. Because I constantly revisit what is a good parent? And for every happy, proud moment there are a thousa . . .

Read more

Help Kids Grow Strawberries

Help Kids Grow Strawberries

Get kids growing in the garden by starting them off planting their own strawberries. You can let them plant and care for a whole patch, or just one or two plants, planted in a strawberry jar or gard . . .

Read more

Are Children's Symptom's Worse At Night When They're Sick?

Are Children's Symptom's Worse At Night When They're Sick?

Why is it that your 5-year-old’s fever, congestion, and pain suddenly worsen at nightfall when the pediatrician’s office is closed? Is it simply a matter of your weary child noticing their symp . . .

Read more

10 Tips to Make Moving Homes Easier With Children

10 Tips to Make Moving Homes Easier With Children

Moving is a hectic transition for anyone to make, but having young children makes it all the more difficult. Not only do you have to consider packing up all those toys, books, and clothes, you also . . .

Read more

How To Empower Kids by Giving Them

How To Empower Kids by Giving Them "Keys to Peace"

Parents and educators are always trying to spark student participation whether it’s in the classroom, in the local community, or throughout the world. When middle-school students were asked what t . . .

Read more

Bedwetting Qualms

Bedwetting Qualms

When it comes to the problem of children wetting the bed, the consolation for most parents is that most children usually outgrow bedwetting. Sadly, however, this is not always the case. Even when a . . .

Read more

The Battle: Dressing Your Kids

The Battle: Dressing Your Kids

If you’ve ever left the house with a child wearing a super hero cape or princess dress, or if you’ve ever noticed your daughter’s socks don’t match as you’re dropping her at school or real . . .

Read more

Keeping Kids Safe When Home Alone

Keeping Kids Safe When Home Alone

American Red Cross Tips Help Kids Stay Safe When Home Alone:Develop and practice a plan to ensure safety after school Many children spend time home alone after school until their parents get home fr . . .

Read more

Dogs Help Children Learn to Read

Dogs Help Children Learn to Read

It turns out dogs are not only good for our health, finding missing people, and helping people with disabilities live independent lives—they’re good for kids’ report cards, too! Canines have . . .

Read more

San Diego Family Magazine Logo

Be Family Informed – Sign up for our Newsletters below!