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Family Device Contract: Balancing Privacy and Responsibility

What Families Need to Know: Their Internet, Your Rules

You finally gave in to your kids' pleas for a device, such as an iPhone or Android or laptop this holiday season because you don’t want them to feel left out (or perhaps you’re still debating the issue). But where should you draw the line between their need for privacy and your responsibility as a parent to keep them safe online?

Enter the Family Device Contract. A device contract is essentially an honor code. It lays out the family ground rules for usage, expectations, and consequence on all connected devices. This means not only smartphones, but Chromebooks, gaming consoles, and personal computers.

When kids and teens are active participants in the process of creating a contract, they’re more likely to respect the responsibility of their new connected devices, as well as appreciate the privilege of having one.

Of course, just like any other household rule, tweens and teens might try to bend them. (We’ve all been there!!) But a device contract is there for accountability and clearly stated consequences. If your kids are aware of the consequences of breaking the rules, they won’t be surprised when you actually enforce them.Circle has you covered and created a device contract template just for your family. This template is customizable to fit your family’s needs.


You can establish how your family will use Circle, what features will support the new contract, and how each one will impact your family.

Step 1: Getting on the Same Page: Parents

Establish Contract Guidelines 

Parents who set aside time to talk about what they want a cell phone contract to look like can establish a baseline before taking rules to the rest of the family. For example, decide how much time, where, and when you want to allow screens, and what the consequences will be if kids break a rule in the contract. Here’s a great article to help you understand the best do’s and don'ts of screen time success.

Respect Privacy

As kids get older, it’s natural for them to want more privacy and that’s OK. But that is something they gain with trust over time. In the real world, we establish rules like knocking before entering their rooms and giving them space to talk to their friends. The same goes for the virtual world, which has shifted how kids socialize. With a contract in place, parents can acknowledge what they will respect in terms of their kids’ privacy, but that they have full rights to their devices if the contract is breached (which may include reading cringe-worthy messages to friends).

Model Good Behavior 

Kids often model their parent’s behavior so sometimes the best way to get them to follow your rules around screen time is to follow the rules yourself (at least when they apply). For example, Pause devices as a family around mealtimes and power down at bedtime too (or other device etiquette you teach at home). Discuss with your partner what feels doable and appropriate and write it into the contract. Kids will likely respond more positively when they see some effort on your part to set boundaries around screen time as well.

Step 2: Getting on the Same Page: Families

Once parents come to an agreement, it’s time to tackle the real deal: introducing the device contract to your kids. You can set up a family meeting or one-on-one conversations—whatever works best for your family. There are different strategies for approaching a device contract and negotiating one might not happen overnight. Keep this game plan in mind as you start to work together on a contract. (Download our sample contract below).

Have a Family Meeting

Gather everyone to talk about why you’re establishing a device contract, lay out the plan you’ve created with your partner, and make it clear that a contract is part of the responsibility of owning a device. It may even be a precursor to getting one. Be sure to also make space for listening to their requests or suggestions and modify the contract as needed. Open communication is key to a successful screen time talk, but sometimes parents will have to stand firm on what they think is best.

Stick to the Plan

Kids will always push boundaries, so consistency is key. Evasion is real—meaning kids will likely try to get around whatever measures you put in place to monitor or limit screen time. Check in once in a while and ensure that everyone is doing their part. No cheating!

Commit to Consequences

If there is an instance of evasion or breaking the rules, make sure to follow through on any consequences outlined in the contract. You’ll avoid repeat offenses and ensure the contract remains effective over the long term. Ultimately, a family media agreement will limit arguments over screen time and make for a more peaceful transition to bringing new devices in the home.

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