Tech Tips

Teaching Kids Responsible Tech Use: Device Contracts

Long before you’re ready for your child to have a phone, you can expect the begging to begin. Cell phones have become a ubiquitous device in our society, even for many tweens. When it comes down to it, many parents OK a phone purchase when they realize it will make it more convenient for them to communicate with their kids about pickup arrangements, cancelled sports practices, and other daily schedule changes.

If you’re contemplating your child’s first phone, think seriously about creating a device contract with your child. A device contract won’t prevent a child or teen from making mistakes—that’s part of learning! But it will help set expectations, smoothing conversations and interactions about the phone.

Consider these ideas when you’re thinking about that first phone purchase and a device contract with your child or teen:

  • Before you agree to purchase a phone for your child, have multiple conversations about responsible tech use. Use what-if scenarios to help your child think through tricky situations. (What if a friend takes your phone and sends a rude text? What if you receive a photo from a friend that isn’t appropriate? What if you lose your phone? What if you get caught with your phone in class?)
  • Talk with your child to set hours for phone usage. Many parents set earlier phone curfews on weeknights, and even take the phone to charge overnight somewhere outside the child’s bedroom, preventing late-night texting temptations!
  • Require your child to have a password on the device, but insist that you always know the password. (The password is to prevent another kid, or someone who steals the phone, from using it—not to keep parents out.)
  • Regularly review your child’s texts, who they’re calling, and what apps they’re using. If you see your child using the phone responsibly, you can lengthen the intervals between checks as you feel comfortable.
  • Remind your child that they should assume anything typed or entered into a digital device, including pictures, will become public and it will last forever. Don’t use the phone to bully, insult, or take or share rude, embarrassing, or sexual pictures or content. Alert a parent immediately if they are aware of another child doing so.Related: 5 Conversations Every Parent Should Have with Their Kids About Social Media
  • It’s the child’s responsibility to keep the phone charged, turned off when it should be, and turned on when it should be.
  • Learning phone manners is an important part of owning a phone. List the times it’s OK to use a phone (for any reason: calling, texting, reading, playing games) in your family, and when it’s not.
  • Outline the consequences for breaking the rules. Essential: Follow through immediately when they do!

Don’t expect your child to have perfect phone manners at first. Decide what’s worth a gentle reminder…and when your child loses the privilege of using the phone for a period of time.

Like anything else, helping your child navigate safe and appropriate device usage is a process. With a great contract and open communication, you can help your child learn to use a phone responsibly—as well as enjoy fun games and chats with friends.

Check out these sample device contracts for more ideas: