Tech Talk: How to create a screen time contract

Tech Talk: How to create a screen time contract

With the school holidays upon us, how do you make sure that your child doesn't spend every waking moment on their tablet or device? Rachel Vecht founder of Educating Matters shares her tried and tested method for preventing screentime meltdowns.

The long summer holidays are creeping up fast. With less structured activity and routine, no homework or extracurricular activities, there is a strong chance that children will resort to spending rather more time in front of a screen.  How can parents teach their children self-regulation and ensure they have a healthy balance of activities without resorting to nagging, repeating, justifying, reminding, threatening or shouting about screen use?  

There is only one method I know that works. I've used it with my own 4 children and suggested it to thousands of parents.

Make a screen time contract with each child, no matter what their age, from the moment they can understand the concept of boundaries.

Parents need to set appropriate limits according to a child's age, stage of development and temperament.  Studies clearly show that in homes with clear rules and limits around the use of technology, children perform better in school, are healthier, happier and have better relationships with both family and friends. There is no perfect set of rules. They must work for your child, your circumstances and reflect your family values. Parents need to put in some hard work to make this a reality but it's so worthwhile.

How to create a screen time contract:

  • Sit down with your partner or whoever shares responsibility for caring for your child and discuss screen use.
  • Have an open conversation with your child to understand what they enjoy about screens and what they like to use them for.  These conversations need to happen frequently. You have a fundamental responsibility to understand and monitor your child's behaviour online, just as you do in the physical world.
  • Explain that you are going to create a screen time contract and agree on the rules together. Children must be part of the discussion and allowed to make suggestions. This is an opportunity for parents to both listen and consider their child's perspective, be open and express any concerns.  The idea of this written, visible contract is to give children clarity and as much room as possible to be responsible so you don't need to monitor or control their every move.  This, of course, is impossible to do anyway, whether you work from home or are in an office all day.
  • Rules must be framed in the positive.  Effective rules are about empowering your child so they know what to do and ultimately develop effective habits.

Core areas to address in the screen contract:

When:  e.g. after chores, homework or physical exercise.

Where: have screen free zones such as in the car, bedroom or meal times.

How long for: use timers or if necessary apps that shut down devices after allocated times up.

What: for younger children be very specific about which websites, apps, games, social media platforms & TV programmes etc.

Who: only communicate with someone they have met in person and no sharing of personal information.

How much: agreed budget to spend online.

Values: e.g. treat others as you wish to be treated.

Rules are worthless if at the same time you don't agree in advance the rewards for keeping to them and the consequences for not.

Once the contract is written and signed, the last and most difficult part for parents is to be consistent and follow through.  It can take a good few weeks to firmly establish these rules and get your child into good habits.

If the rule is no phones at the table, that applies to parents too!

Remember that around 80% of parenting is modelling.

I’d love to hear how you get on....


Rachel Vecht founded Educating Matters 18 years ago, drawing on her experiences as a teacher and mother of 4.  Educating Matters supports parents to get the best out of their children through seminars, webinars & workshops in corporates, schools, group parenting classes & 1:1 consultations.

Released On 8th Jul 2019

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