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.


  • 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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Is a phone on your back to school shopping list?

I will admit that when our eldest got a phone we did not think too deeply about it. She was babysitting and participating in more after school activities and we wanted her to be able to contact us. We knew she would use it to text her friends, but we didn’t think that was a big deal. Now a few years a later, we have another child entering middle school and this time around we are not as cavalier about getting her a phone.

There are days I love the phone and days I wonder why she has it. I love that she can call if she needs a ride or has a problem and I can reach her if there is a change.I am more comfortable letting her venture out knowing she has a phone. All of this connection can also lead to disconnection. She is on her phone a lot. Some days, I swear she never looks up and it is a constant battle to limit time. We also struggle with how much to monitor her use. It is hard to guide her if we don’t know what she is doing on her phone. We want to make sure she is using her phone responsibly but we don’t want to read every text. 

Before buying a phone, parents and kids should discuss time and use. Ultimately, whether a kid is ready for a phone depends a lot on them and you. Some questions to think about are:

  • How responsible are they with their current devices?
  • How well are they doing with time management?
  • Are they managing friendships well in the real world?
  • Are you ready as a parent to manage and guide their use?

If you decide it is time for a phone, remember a phone and internet can be separated and introduced at different ages. Your 6th grader may need a phone to get picked up at school. It doesn’t mean they need internet access. Contrary to what they may tell you, not everyone has a smartphone.

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esrb family pic

4 Tips on choosing the right app from the ESRB

 esrb sealLast week, Dona Fraser the Vice President of ESRB Privacy Certified explained the new COPPA rules. This week, we continue our conversation with some tips for how parents can help their kids choose the right apps.  

KidsPrivacy: Will the new COPPA rules include apps like Instagram or Vine that currently restricts to users to over 13?

 Dona Fraser: Many websites and apps use a minimum age in their terms of service. COPPA compliance, however, is required for any online service that is deemed to be “directed to children,” or even in some cases where an app is directed to an audience that is a mix of kids and adults. There are a series of criteria that determine whether an online service is directed to children, but it essentially boils down to whether or not children are the primary target audience.

KP: For these apps outside of COPPA, what tools & tips does the ESRB have to help families decide if an app is appropriate for their child?

DF: Here are four things parents should keep in mind about managing their kids’ apps:

  1.  Check the rating. Parents can check an app’s age rating within the storefront it is purchased (it is usually listed on its detail page) but they can also look up information about apps by using the ESRB website or our free mobile app. ESRB recently expanded its rating system to add information that goes beyond content. Now apps can also be assigned notices, called Interactive Elements, that indicate if a game shares the user’s location with other users (“Shares Location”), shares user-provided personal information with third parties (“Shares Info”), or if users can interact with other users or may be exposed to user-generated content (“Users Interact”).
  2.  Check the privacy policy. Just like websites, apps that collect information from users must have a privacy policy that explains what information is collected, how it’s used, and with whom it’s shared. Review these policies to make sure you are comfortable with the information that is collected. It is also worth noting that the mobile industry is currently exploring what are called “short form” privacy notices, which are much more reader-friendly versions of privacy notices that tell parents exactly what they need to know without all the legalese.
  3.  Set restrictions. Many devices like smartphones and tablets allow parents to restrict access to certain apps and features. For instance, you can block the child from downloading apps that are above a certain age rating or ones that allow the user to make purchases from within the app. Explore your device’s settings and set these restrictions based on what you feel is appropriate for your child.
  4. Be hands-on. No tool can ever replace being involved. Check out what apps your child is downloading and using, and talk to them about what the apps do and why they find them fun or useful. Apps are tools and tools can be used for good and bad. Making sure your child is supervised and educated about what is appropriate is critical.

For more information about the ESRB and their tools for parents check out:

snapchat ghost

Snapchat’s only privacy setting is a good friend

snapchat ghost

When I watch my kids online, I often wish the internet was a bit more forgiving. I am not talking about the freedom to do whatever they want without consequences. I am talking about sharing a silly moment without it stalking them for they rest of their lives. The Snapchat app appears to promise kids this freedom by allowing them to send a disappearing photo.

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Snapchat lets kids take and send photos to their friends that cannot be saved. It does this by including a self-destruct button. Kids decide how long their friend can view the photo, with a maximum viewing time of 10 seconds. When time is up, the photo disappears. Snapchat photos cannot be saved by the recipient.

Snapchat is intended for kids over 13. It is one of the top 5 apps for teens. Over 60 million photos or messages are sent each day on Snapchat. The latest version will let teens send videos that self-destruct within 10 seconds.

When Snapchat first launched, many people wrote about the potential for teens to use it for sexting. A self-destructing photo seemed the perfect way for teens to send naughty pictures without worrying about the photo ending up splashed all over the internet. Some teens probably have used Snapchat for this purpose and parents should definitely talk to their teen about the dangers of sexting.

silly snapchat photoAn online search for #Snapchat reveals a lot of teens are using it to take funny pictures of themselves. They are making an ugly face or drawing a mustache. These pictures share a silly moment then disappear. They can have fun without having their crazy duck face follow them into adulthood. Unfortunately, these faces may not always disappear.

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