A Screen Time Contract; For When You Really Mean Business

Parenting / Thursday, January 8th, 2015

screen time contract

As mentioned previously, this Christmas, Santa got the three older kids Kindle Fires. I shot a great video of them opening their presents and screaming in disbelief. Up until very close to Advent, we’d always shut down their requests for personal electronic items. My husband and I only recently changed our minds. While in some families screens are no big deal, we over-thought this decision for weeks. We don’t have a TV and until recently, the kids and I have all shared a desktop and antiquated laptop during the day. (Fulton does have and iPad and has for many years as it is one of the few things he can do unassisted. But the benefits of technology for Fulton, and Teddy, belong in another post entirely.) I do have an iPod touch and when my husband is home he has a Samsung tablet, plus a laptop from work he brings home occasionally.

We stream cartoons and movies on the desktop, plus do online classes, and until Christmas, each child got one half hour of time on the desktop each day for games or whatever. A typical half hour usually included Minecraft, watching Minecraft videos on YouTube, uploading and commenting on DIY.org, emailing friends (for Addie) or Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse. The laptop is really only good for web searches, typing practice, Quizlet, and word processing. No one ever asked to use it during their half hour. Sometimes, I’ll use the laptop to blog in bed but typically I use the desktop to write, email, lesson plan, create scout meeting agendas, schedule everything, chat with my husband while he’s at work, and a bunch of other small tasks my kids all say looks like Facebook. I use my iPod primarily to check email, take too many pictures, text, listen to music/ podcasts, and chat (I finally took Facebook off it for good.)

Overall, I think we had a good balance of screens and doing everything else but screens. The one sticking point was that each child sat next to the computer while the others did their half hour of screen time so, every afternoon, rain or shine they all sat staring at the desktop for an hour and a half . During school, we were getting congestion around the two available computers. And if the laptop was acting wonky, it was hard for everyone to get on the desktop. Usually it wouldn’t come to fisticuffs, I mean, we should all be able to share, but it seriously messed up the flow of our mornings.

Tony thought about getting one family tablet but I really didn’t want to try to “help” everyone learn to share that during the day. (i.e. keep fighting to a minimum over who’s turn it was to use the tablet.) I thought a tablet a piece for the older three would allow them all to work on their school stuff promptly and then they’d all complete their half hour of screen time at the same time, freeing up an hour each afternoon. Plus, now they can all play games, like Minecraft, together. However Tony and I both knew ground rules needed laid so the kids understood what was expected of them and how ownership of their own tablet didn’t equal all day screen time.

I searched Pinterest for screen time contracts, collected some ideas, made some tweaks and typed up the Mantoan family version. I presented the first draft to the kids for feedback, made some revisions then asked them to sign it. No signature, no Kindle Fire. Some people might think it’s overkill, but I’ve always found it best to clearly outline all rules, expectations and consequences to my children. It prevents ongoing questions (Can I get on my tablet now? Now? Now? Now?), and it’s harder for kids to not take responsibility for their actions. (“I didn’t know I couldn’t join Facebook and set up a public event for all my friends to come over tomorrow night, honest Mom!”)

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 7.02.59 AM
CLICK to visit the full-sized contract.

Our contract clearly states the times their tablets may be used, how they may be used, what must be completed before they can get their screen time, safety measures and my favorite part, “Suggestions to revise this contract must be made to your parents in writing. They will respond to said suggestions within 48 hours. Pestering will result in a denial to review suggestions.”

Kindles do come with an app that controls when and what kids can use on their devices, but I want my kids to know what is expected of them and give them the freedom to do the right thing. If they don’t learn to control themselves, what will guide them once they’re older and the parental blocks come off? Our contract will prevent them from stumbling across too much junk (a big NO to requests for social media accounts and commenting on YouTube) and safety settings on search engines filter out a good chunk as well.


Do your kids have personal electronic devices or screen time during the day? Do you regulate their time or oversee what content they’re viewing? How much time is enough, or too much? Did you specifically address online safety? Leave your answers and comments below!








12 Replies to “A Screen Time Contract; For When You Really Mean Business”

  1. My kids have no limits on electronic usage. We supervise them; talk about what websites are allowed and why other ones aren’t, and then we (the parents) step back. Most have dealt with things responsibly. They come talk something seems weird. Siblings are also happy to rat out on someone who might be going astray (there’s an upside to having one sibling glued over another’s shoulder staring at the screen!) They loose privileges for a time if they do something wrong online or if school behaviour/grades slip.

    The ones old enough for Facebook/social media also get a chat about not posting inappropriate stuff. They are actually happy to comply – they’ve seen friends do stupid things on line and understand it’s not nice/worth it. My kids are required to have all their aunts as their Facebook friends who can see anything and everything on their accounts.
    We do have to deal with the occasional electronic binge (too much DS or Netflix), but mostly it works (and goodness knows the adults in the house are guilty of those as well!). My kids do go to school outside the home, so that helps!

    Usually in the summer and school vacations I ban electronics in the mornings. We do outside things then and then, in the heat of the afternoon, they can retreat to a cool spot with a screen if they wish.

    My kids do play with toys; create stories and games, and do crafts, and lots of other things. We feel that be making electronics a nice tool/diversion but not some forbidden fruit, they learn how to use it well. Or so I hope – no major issues so far!

    PS -I admit I wasn’t thrilled about Facebook, but a lot of clubs/activities mykids are in use it for posting their organizational plans, so it’s almost required.

  2. Having enough screens for each child was a great moment for us as well. Now everyone has screen time together (we allow an hour). There’s a shared chromebook and ipad for school use during the day as well. Thanks for sharing your contract. I think I might modify it for us as well. None of my children are old enough to be creating accounts without us, but perhaps they don’t know that!

  3. I found your blog listening to Fountains of Carrots podcast and I love your writing. This post is awesome. This is a great way to keep kids accountable and setting up the expectations for what you want to see. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Growing up, we never had any contracts/specific rules regarding screen time, but I grew up in a TV-watching household and we only had one computer. It was in my brother’s and my best interests that we work things out amongst ourselves — getting Ma involved was a low percentage game play.

    We didn’t really fight about it much, to be honest.

  5. I would have been all over this! My children were in junior high and high school when computers became more common. They had limits for TV watching all their lives (30 mins) and then we all shared the same computer until the very end of their high school years. The screen was visible to the kitchen/family room, so there was a natural check on what they viewed.

  6. This is great, thanks for sharing! We don’t have kids yet, but we have talked extensively about limiting television time. My brain hadn’t gotten as far as the interwebs until I read this. I’ll definitely be holding onto it for “later.”

  7. I’d like to know what you did about the kids watching each other’s time. My younger kids all do that…I tell them that if they’re going to watch someone else play, then it’s going to count as their screen time. But of course, this requires my monitoring, which is difficult to do when I’m also trying to teach, etc. Any easy suggestions for that? Thanks for posting your contract -I may use it when my olders get older.

    1. This was a problem when all the kids had to share one computer. Each of the older three children got a half hour, but wound up watching the other two for a total of an hour and a half each afternoon. I felt like we were losing the best time of the day. Giving each child a device means the all get their screen time at the same time. This keeps screen time to the allotted time and the kids actually enjoy playing many games, like Minecraft, together. Smaller devices also make one child’s screen time less distracting to other family members.

      1. Gotcha. We only have one kindle but sometimes they want to use the computer instead, etc. I guess part of my problem is that I allow them to do their screen time as they finish schoolwork — it helps to have the younger ones occupied while I finish up with the older ones.

  8. This is amazing. I have rules, but I have not made a contract of it, and as they get older it seems so rational to me to have this kind of limit for school vs. play. Thank you!

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