Explainer: Family Technology-use Agreements

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Coming up with guidelines and agreements (rules, if you must!) that clearly define the expectations around screen-based media use (that’s the fancier term for ‘screentime’) are an essential feature of modern families.

You need to consider these before the tech genie is unboxed.  Or, at least, when the newest version of the coolest new shiny thing is purchased (thanks Santa).

There are many examples you can find online, but I find many of these are simply long cut and paste lists of things we tell kids they should and shouldn’t do!  That’s totally not what I suggest an agreement should look like.

A family technology agreement works best when it:

  • is developed together as a family including co-parenting and blended families, and even grandparents, it’s not handed down by the adults (or one of the adults) without consultation.
  • it asks questions about what the best parts of technology and its uses are, it doesn’t just focus on risk, harms and ‘negatives’.
  • takes on young people’s perspectives and really listens to their voice and ideas, get them to do the first draft
  • includes rules for parents/adult’s technology use, yep parents are not off the hook!
  • is clear and specific but has room for some (respectful) negotiation and contingencies (like when completing an assignment or on a rainy weekend).
  • is tailored for the different people in the family, their ages and their digital preferences, as well as having whole family systems
  • is framed positively as target behaviours not as long lists of misdemeanours
  • includes expectations around offline activities too, for example participating in sports or extra-curricular activities. Check out The Healthy Mind Platter
  • is applied consistently and fairly including to parents! This is the really hard bit.
  • is regularly reviewed and revised (this will help with consistency).
  • links behaviour to meaningful rewards in the short, medium and long term, not just more screen time! Beware of tech as a currency for ‘good behaviour’.
  • avoids being a ‘contract’ that requires signatures and is simply used as a discipline tool, it won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on if you frame it that way!

A family technology agreement needs to co-exist with other family agreements which are always based on shared family values and regular, clear communication.  If you family hasn’t worked on getting clear on these you might find your tech agreement falls over!

Some resources I think nail these issues are:

  • Psychologist Michael Hawton’s book Engaging Adolescents– or many of the books out there on connected parenting of teens
  • Janell Burley-Hofmann’s book iRules (the original guide to tech-healthy families).
  • Common Sense Media’s template – remember, this is simply a guide, you need to tailor this!
  • The Australian eSafety Commission’s Agreement for under 5 year olds – it’s never too early to start these conversations.

Now you try it!

Got questions or need support?  Get in touch to have personalised support to get back in control of technology in your home

Had success with developing a tech agreement? Share it with me!

You can also enrol to do the 4-week webinar series: ENGAGING (TECH-OBSESSED) ADOLESCENTS. Starts Feb 8th, 2021.  Tickets here.


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