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  • Writer's pictureMerlyn

Family Online Use Agreements

Family online use agreements are really helpful for growing families to manage screen time and guide positive digital citizenship. 

When your child is between 6-10 and is still leaning on you to understand technology, it is a great idea to put a Family Online Use Agreement in place. There are lots of benefits to knowing the rules ahead of time, for everyone.

Parents and kids can negotiate the consequences of breaking the rules and have an open conversation about what both parties understand about online spaces in the process. This is important to do before children hit their pre-teens when hormones and peer orientation become a stronger pull on them than their parent or caregivers’ influence. 

A mother, a young daughter and younger son sit on a couch taking a selfie.

Easiest to obey and enforce for both parents and children are activity constraints—rules for specific online activities or apps. These might include not using social media apps until the age specified in Family Online Use Agreement, or playing age-appropriate games only. Age restrictions can be helpful external guidelines for parents to look to for age-appropriateness of apps and games. (See MediaSmarts, CommonSenseMedia or Graphite).

Contextual constraints—banning tech use in certain places and at certain times are the most troublesome for both parents and children to enforce but often required for families to have good on/offline life balance. No phone at the dining table, and at bedtime and/or no devices in a child’s bedroom can become a consistent behaviour management issue.  However, these boundaries and constraints are important for healthy family media management.

Parents who are unable to manage a child need to take more proactive steps, may want to investigate monitoring and app control software. Installing time and app monitoring software can be the basis for family dialogue about online use. Sharing a family iTunes or Google Play account can help you guide and supervise your child. These do require, however, that your child be cooperative in the process. If a trusting dialogue and respect for both parties’ boundaries can be maintained, then collaboration about technology use is ideal.

If collaboration is not an option, locking down equipment can take the form of installing timers on your home router so the wifi network for the whole house shuts down at a certain time each night.

Sometimes seeking professional help is a really smart choice. Family dynamics that have been difficult before can easily become negatively exaggerated when online devices, apps and choices are added to the mix.


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