Setting a digital agreement

Ever feel like you and your kids just aren’t on the same page when it comes to things like how much screen-time they should have, or how they should be spending their time online? A digital agreement can help remove some of the ambiguity and set the tone for better online practices for your family. So, here is our guide for creating a digital agreement.

Written by Cyber Expert:

Yasmin London

Former Police Officer

What is a digital device agreement?

A digital device agreement is a set of rules and expectations around a young person's behavior when they are online, or utilizing a device (whether owned or borrowed). The purpose of a digital device agreement is to open up discussion on responsibilities and expectations regarding a child's online time. These boundaries allow children the opportunity to exercise their own decision making and judgement capabilities in safe environments, and encourage them to think critically about their own behavior. They also provide a necessary and meaningful opportunity for parents and carers to implement real world consequences should things go wrong.

Why do experts recommend digital agreements?

Digital device agreements are a fantastic way for parents and children to plan their technology use, and to build out expectations regarding their behavior. Device agreements clearly outline risks that exist for children in the online world, and open the lines of communication between children and parents on how to deal with issues that arise. A digital device agreement also adds a sense of formality in regards to a child's access, and the reiteration of consistent and positive behavior expectations in order to continue to access the privilege of the online world. By focusing on what children can control and placing emphasis on their personal behaviors, parents can empower and support their children's participation in the digital world.

Sample digital agreements 

Every child and family situation is different, so it's important to adjust the dials on rules as you see fit for your child and family situation. With that in mind, here are some guidelines that will help you implement the right boundaries based on your child's age.

4-8

At this age it is a great idea to start discussions about the importance of rules in the online world and how children can be part of the conversation in staying safe. From this age, children begin to recognize rules, and can understand basic concepts on how the internet works to connect them to the world. Developmentally, this group are quite trusting, so it's important the digital agreement covers clear rules about who they are allowed to talk with online, and who they aren't allowed to communicate with.

9-11

Developmentally this group begin to become more immersed in the world of social media and gaming, because at this age they are highly influenced by their peer group. Often, kids of this age group begin to step away from strictly following their parent's rules, and start to value the opinions of their friends a lot more. This opens them up to temptations to sign up to social media, or post YouTube videos to copy what their friends are doing. Setting clear rules at this age is important to set your expectations and their online behavior, and ensuring that they know there will be consequences if the rules are broken.

12-14

From 12 -14 kids go through a developmental leap where they want more autonomy (naturally), and will apply some pretty heavy hitting tactics in their push for freedom or their right to privacy. These repetitive and often unrelenting pleas for access to a popular app or autonomy from their parents can wear thin. However, at this age it is vital to understand that tweens still lack the critical thinking ability and awareness to consistently make the right decision at the right time. Kids will be swayed by their emotions (say, by responding aggressively to an online insult for example).

It is a fine line to walk with children of this age, as tweens still need guidance (even if they don’t think they do), and parents need to have a legitimate fall back to enforce consequences for poor or questionable behavior. Digital device contracts allow you to be firm but fair, understanding that a teens increased confidence doesn't necessarily equate to a true understanding of how to navigate the complexities of the online environment, and that by implementing rules and boundaries, their safety is less likely to be compromised.

15+

At 15 and over, it's more important to have open, honest conversations about expectations in the online world. You might choose not to force your teenager to sign a physical agreement, and rather focus more on the attitudes and behaviors that they are expected to show in order to access the online world on a device you have provided. 

Be sure to remember the pivotal role you play as parents in modelling positive online behaviors too. Children look first to their role models for positive reinforcement of what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to technology, and will often refer to their parents  decisions to categorize healthy and respectful online behaviors. Teenagers believe these situations are “one in, all in” - so do your best not to do anything you ask them not to.

4- to 8-year-olds

9- to 11-year-olds

12- to 14-year-olds

15-year-olds and older