family contract

How to create a Family Phone Contract

We decided she was ready. We picked a phone and plan. Now, she has a phone!

My kid spent her first phone weekend searching for the perfect case and texting her friends. On Monday, she discovered her phone journey was not over. We sat down together to draft her phone contract.

Her phone contract included rules about both time and use. In fairness, she wished she were her older sister. Her big sister did not have a phone contract. We learned with her. Through trial and error, we worked out a phone understanding.

So far, these improvised guidelines have worked. Even so, I wish we had drafted a phone contract when our eldest first got her phone. Setting rules about time and use from the beginning is easier than trying to figure them out midstream.

With our second kid, we wrote a contract from the start. We did not just give her a list of rules. We went through each point and discussed it. While working on the contract, we found out what she already knew and we shared our specific concerns. We reworked a few items based on our discussion. Ultimately, her safety and privacy came first so some of our rules were not negotiable.

Family phone agreements can range from a few simple rules to multi-page documents. What you decide to cover in your agreement will depend a lot on your family. Try to focus on what is important for you and your kid now. Families should review and revise their contract at least once a year. As a kid grows older, you can add more expectations around issues such as sexting as well as allow for more freedom as they show they are responsible.

Below is an example of our contract. We started with the bullet points and the grey italics show what we discussed. There are many family digital agreements online. If this model doesn’t fit your family, I have included a few more at the bottom.

FAMILY PHONE CONTRACT

  • Phones must be parked by                   at                                          .

Originally, I wanted a hard stop but we settled on the phone goes to bed when she goes upstairs to bed. The phone is parked downstairs & the charger stays downstairs.

  •  Phones cannot be used during                                                                        .

Families should try to create some phone free times. Discuss with your kid when they can use their phone and when they should put it away.When we sit at the table for a family dinner all phones including mine are not allowed at the table. 

  • Your contacts can only include                                                           .

We talked a lot about who they can have in their contact list. Especially for a new phone user keep the contact list to their real world friends and family. If they have a question about who to add they should ask you.

  • To keep you safe, we will monitor your phone by                                                .

I monitor with surprise phone checks. Periodically, we ask for the phone and go through it. I do it with them sitting next to me so I can ask them questions. I am not looking to get them into trouble. I just want to know what they are doing with their phone. Most of the time, it is a quick, simple perusal. The only time, I really go through it is if there is a hesitation to handing over the phone or I think something is going on.

To keep them safe and protect their privacy, parents should set some hard and fast rules.

  • Never share your personal information online.

Kids should remember never to share their location or physical address. They should also never give out their personal information such as phone number, full birthdate, full name or other information that could be used by an identity thief.   

  • Never type or post anything you would not say in person or wish to appear on a billboard.

If they would not say it to someone’s face, they should not share it online. This includes not only what they post on social networks but private communications as well. Texts and instant messages can be saved with a screenshot and posted elsewhere or forwarded to someone else. Nothing is ever private in the digital world.

  • Your device must be kept secure at all times.

 Kids should set a strong password and not share their password with anyone except you. Viruses can also target smartphones. If your kid has a smartphone, they should  keep all software up to date.

  • For Smartphones – If you restrict it on the desktop, restrict it on the phone.

A smartphone is a computer in their pocket. Parents will want to extend the family computer rules to this device.

  • If you have a problem, please come to us first and we have a problem we will come to your first.
  • If you do not uphold this contract, we will                                                        .

Parents need to let kids know what will happen if they misuse their phone. For minor mistakes, parents may want to increase monitoring for a period of time. For bigger violations, parents may want to implement a digital time out or digital grounding. I know parents who take the phone completely away for a period of time while others restrict its use to certain hours of the day. Digital grounding is not as easy as it sounds. Kids will argue they need their phone for school and you may want them to have it during the day. Whatever you decide make sure you can enforce it. 


For more examples of family media agreements, check out:

kids phone

Finding the right plan and phone for your Family

This year, we have another child entering middle school. She vividly remembers that her older sibling started middle school with a phone and she is ready for her first phone. We had done this dance before so we thought it would be a simple trip to our wireless store to add another line and get a phone. We found out a lot had changed in two years.

We discovered all sorts of new plans and new options. We could choose a family plan. We could do a prepaid plan. We could all move to a new prepaid, no contract plan. It was not just our carrier. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the four major carriers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon & T-Mobile) offer a total of nearly 700 combinations of smartphone plans—a family of five alone would have more than 250 options to choose from.”

With all these plans where does one start? We started with the Wall Street Journal’s Wireless Savings Calculator. We compared “multiple line” plans between the 4 major carriers. We also played around with different options, like the numbers of minutes or the amount data, to see which carrier offered the best savings.

wsj questions

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