With three kids, computers, and tablets in our house, we knew that we had to figure out a way to not only keep them safe but also monitor their use. And, as they each start to get their own cell phones, that means even more is at stake. The solution? A technology contract.
The kids come home from school and they’ve been thinking all day long. They want to do something just wind down. One of my kids loves to watch her videos, another watches a TV program and my other child grabs the controller to play a video game.
And as they get older they have cell phones as well. That sometimes means an unending sound of chirps as they chat with their friends.
As a parent, I understand that we live in a technology-driven world. That is just how it is. However, we also know that we don’t want life to revolve around a screen. We also want to make sure our kids are responsible with their cell phones too. That’s what lead us to make a contract for screen time.
KIDS CELL PHONE CONTRACT
Why you need to create a contract
You can’t hand a cell phone or tablet to a kid or teen and expect them to know how to be responsible. They have to know when they can and can’t use their devices, what is expected, taking care of them and being safe online. They can’t be expected to know this on their own.
A contract puts all of the expectations in writing. Everyone in the family knows needs to know what is expected, when the devices can be used, and what happens if they break the terms of the contract.
When you first mention a contract, you may get a few eye-rolls from your kids. They may think you are going to tell them what to do. But, if you let them know that they too get a say, then they will be more open to listening and working on writing a contract that everyone can agree to.
When should you start using a contract?
When kids are younger, they may have limited time as you control that more. As they get older, in grades 2+, then there need to be more clear guidelines set so they know when they are allowed to use technology.
Once your child has a cell phone, a contract becomes a must. There is a lot of responsibility that goes with owning a phone and your tween or teen needs to agree to those terms.
It is important your kids understand that a contract is not a punishment, but how you set healthy boundaries for your child.
WRITING A CELL PHONE CONTRACT
There are several components that go into creating your contract. Whether you use the free contract I have for you to download, or make your own, you want to ensure that you include everything that is important.
Use during the school year
When school is in session, there may be required device time for homework (as many schools move to Chromebooks and online work). That time is not to be considered for the contract. The usage is only for non-school time.
During the school year, determine the days of the week they are allowed to use the device and the time each night that they are to be turned off.
Weekend and summer use
When the kids have free time they may want to use the devices more. Establish the number of hours they are allowed to use their devices on the weekends and then weekdays when school is not in session.
You will also want to include wording as to device usage during vacations and holidays. Your kids certainly do not need a device when you are visiting a theme park, beach or camping, so you want to make sure to include those terms as well.
When the phone or device is not to be used
There will be events when the kids are not allowed to use any sort of device at all. These can include:
- When there are visitors
- While driving (or walking)
- Sleepovers (home or away)
Charging, storage, and care
Establish a home for the devices. For example, you may not want your teen to have his or her cell phone in their room at night. Your child should also be responsible for charging devices as well.
They also must know how to take care of the device including ensuring it stays in the protective case, not using it near water and cleaning it as needed.
When they can use the device
Your child will often have chores and homework that must be completed before they use a device. Make sure these are clearly noted in the contract.
Using the web and apps
There are sites and apps that are not meant for kids. In fact, younger children should be supervised at all times when they are online. Make certain your kids know which apps they can and cannot download (consider some of the services below to monitor this). They also need to know the should not visit inappropriate sites.
Staying safe online
Your kids need to know what is appropriate to text and what to do if they receive something that is not. They also need to know they are not to every share their passwords or personal information with anyone.
Social media usage
Discuss what is expected when it comes to social media and if you will allow your child to sign up or not (some sites have age restrictions, so your child cannot join anyhow). Your child needs to use it as a place to connect and not to belittle, bully, or harass others.
Your child should know that Mom and Dad have access to see their devices at any time. This means apps, texts and other details that they may have on their phone.
Consequences for breaking the contract
It needs to be very clearly stated as to what will happen if any of the terms of the contract are broken. This can be a loss of time or even complete loss of the device for a period of time (or even indefinitely).
Everyone should sign the contract
Once it is written down, each family member should sign the contract. You can create an individual contract for each child, as they may each have different rules based upon devices and age. For example, your younger child may not have a cell phone whereas your teen may.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR KIDS SAFE ONLINE
Even with a contract, you need to make sure you protect your kids. There is a lot of online content that they should never experience. As parents, we are doing what we can to watch it all, but that can be a difficult task. There are some apps and, programs and devices you can use to ensure your kids are safe and do not end up on those sites where we don’t want them to be.
We know that we can’t be everywhere. That is why it is important that the lines of communication are open. You need to always have access to your child’s device.
Review the apps they have (and watch for those that they use that are secret apps). For example, there is an app that appears to be a calculator, but once a code is entered you will find hidden photos.
PARENTAL DEVICES TO MONITOR USAGE
We don’t want to spy on our children, but we also want to keep them safe. It is a fine line to walk and you know your child and what you can and can not do. Just do what works best – but don’t bury your head in the sand. Kids need direction and guidance to keep them safe.
Internet Service Provider
Some internet providers allow you to control Internet access including times when the service is not available for the family. But, if you want to use your devices when the kids should not, there are other devices you can use.
Limit Access with a Device
If you want to control the times of the day when your kids can and cannot get online, you can use a device, such as KoalaSafe. It connects to your router. This little contraption allows you to restrict access to sites and also has the added benefit of limiting connection time to them being online. You can personalize it for each child’s device and even have different settings for each day of the week.
Use Kid-Friendly Browsers
Rather than allow your kids to use just your regular Google or Yahoo browser, you might consider using one of these:
Kiddle. This is from Google and is a kid-friendly search engine. The results will return only kid-safe sites and images.
MyMunka. Turn this into your child’s home screen. This service will block up to 98% of the stuff you do not want your children to see online.
KidzSearch. This is a search tool which completely kid-friendly. It too is the perfect home screen so when they go online, they access this screen first and as they search, they get results you can trust.
YouTubeKids. This is a kid-friendly version of YouTube videos. You can feel confident that your kids can search to watch the videos he or she wants — without worry that something you don’t want them seeing will show up on their device!
Programs & Apps
There are programs and apps you can install onto devices and computers to keep your kids safe and to even track what they are doing. Of course, you can use your parental controls, but these provide an extra layer of protection.
iKey Monitor. While we know that parents need to talk to their kids, that doesn’t mean you really know what they are doing. If you want/need more tracking this is a great paid app which allows you to see anything your child is doing on their device.
Webwatcher. This is another paid service which allows you to track activity from your kids while they are online. Again, as much as we hope our kids are honest and we have access to all they do, there may be times when you need to know more. This might allow you access to that information including tracking sites, etc so you know what is going on.
Make sure you have disabled in-app purchases on your devices. This will prevent even the accidental purchase of lives, coins or even apps or products you may not want.
- Turn off in-app purchases on Apple devices
- Turn off in-app purchases on Android devices
- Turn off in-app purchases on Kindle devices
There is so much online that is scary. From inappropriate websites to images and even predators, we need to keep our kids safe. They may not appreciate it right now. They also may not like us. However, it is important that we parent our kids first so that they can grow up safe. Then, when they are adults, we get the chance to be their friends.