[Updated October 2016]
A family media agreement (or technology contract, or whatever you may call it) helps you establish rules and guidelines on internet and device use. A media agreement is also a great way to start a conversation about internet safety, and to decide on and communicate consequences from the start so there are no misunderstandings.
When to start using a family media agreement
Introduce a family media agreement when your child first starts to use any technology in the home without your supervision – including computers/laptops, video games, tablets and phones.
Back-to-school is a great time to address this topic as your children may be using new technologies at school. As they progress through the grades, they will increasingly use computers during the school day. They may have a need to go online at home to finish homework assignments. Students may even be using mobile technologies – such as tablets – in the classroom. As your children become more comfortable using these technologies at school, they will want to use them at home too.
You may also want to revisit any time you introduce a new device into the home. New Kindle for Christmas? An iPhone for a birthday or graduation gift? Time to update your agreement.
What to include in a family media agreement
Your family media agreement will help you set appropriate limits, given your child’s age. Some examples might include:
- How many hours a day can be spent using a computer, tablet, or playing video games?
- Are social media sites allowed – which ones?
- Are mobile devices allowed in bedrooms overnight?
- Are any particular web sites off-limits?
- What information can be or shouldn’t be shared online?
- What should your child do if they encounter something scary online
- What happens if they break the rules?
Find a Media Agreement for Children of Any Age
Putting together a media agreement or technology contract is not difficult. You don’t have to write one yourself. There are many to choose from. Use them as-is or as a starting point to create your own.
Family Media Use Plan – from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
The Family Media plan from the AAP is an online tool where you can create a customized plan for each child. Pick and choose from the available options such as Screen-Free zones, Screen-Free times, Device Curfews, media consumption, digital citizenship. You can customize and choose different options for each child, and can also enter your own rules into the plan. Once done you can print it out. The site also includes a Media Time calculator. This could be useful to look at with your children. Once you enter in the time needed for school, sleep, sports and hobbies, family time, and homework, it’s clear that too much screen time would take away from these important activities. (Also available in Spanish)
Family Online and Mobile Device Agreement – from Yahoo Safely and the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)
This is a great all-purpose agreement for kids and tweens. There are great reminders here such as not sharing passwords or personal information, and letting a parent know right away if they encounter anything inappropriate online. What I really like about this one is the section for parents – we have responsibility here too! (Also available in Spanish)
FOSI also provides Online Safety cards to include when gifting a new phone, tablet or other electronic device. Great idea!
Family Media Agreements – from Common Sense Media (pdf)
Common Sense Media is a great resource for parents and educators. There are three agreements here for different age levels: elementary school, middle school, and high school. Each one is geared towards the types of online activities kids are typically engaged in at their age level but built upon common themes – such as “I will stay safe” and “I will stay balanced”. Parents have a role here too, such as “Recognize that media is a big part of my life, even if they don’t always understand why.”
Internet Monitoring Family Game Plan – from InternetSafety.com, part of McAfee
InternetSafety.com is the maker of Safe Eyes parental control software. The family game plan can be signed and posted near the computer. This plan covers the basics such as not giving out private information and keeping passwords safe. The plan also covers safety rules outside of the home. And again, the plan acknowledges the reasons a plan is necessary: “I agree that my mom or dad can read my mail or check the sites that I have been visiting — not because they don’t trust me but because they just want to make sure that I am safe.”
Any of these media agreements, technology contracts, agreements or game plans can be used as a jumping-off point to create your own. Pick and choose the rules and guidelines that make sense for your family members. Adjust them over time – the rules for a 12-year old may not be a good fit for a 16-year old. And once they demonstrate safe, appropriate behavior you may be able to loosen the reins a bit. After all the ultimate goal is that they will internalize the rules and guidelines and make good decisions on their own in the future.
The beginning of the school year is a great time to review the rules, but the follow-through takes place every day. Encouraging responsible digital citizenship is an everyday task in our mobile, social, “always-on” society.