How to Implement a Digital Device Contract With Your Kids

As the digital world continues to become more integrated into our lives, it’s important for parents and guardians to set clear boundaries with children about their device use. By implementing a digital device contract, you can help ensure that your kids are using technology safely and responsibly. Setting expectations as a family will help kids develop healthy habits around technology usage, while also providing an opportunity for open dialogue about what kids encounter online.

How to Create a Digital Device Contract 

You can create your own from scratch, or use a customizable one — like our free Digital Device Contract Template.

When customizing the contract for your family, it’s important to provide clear guidelines on how devices should be used. Some of these guidelines may include: 

  • Setting time limits on how long they can spend online each day
  • Establishing rules around which websites they can visit or games they can play
  • Supervising their online activity with a monitoring app like BrightCanary

It’s also important to discuss what types of content are appropriate for them to view or share online across videos, images and text messages. 

In addition to laying out specific rules regarding device usage, a digital device contract should also include consequences if those rules are not followed. For example, if your child goes over the agreed-upon time limit, then there could be restrictions placed on their access for the remainder of the day or week. You may also want to consider rewarding your child for following the rules, such as providing extra time if they have been particularly responsible in their device use. 

When to Introduce a Digital Device Contract 

The ideal moment to first introduce a digital device contract is when your child first gets his or her own phone or tablet. By putting together this document ahead of time, you can ensure that you both understand what is expected from the start. This will help avoid any confusion down the line and make sure that everyone knows exactly where they stand regarding usage rules and expectations. 

Another good time to introduce or update your existing digital device contract is when your family’s circumstances change (e.g., moving house, starting at a new school). This gives you an opportunity to review how things are going so far and make any necessary adjustments. It’s also a good way to reiterate the importance of responsible online behavior and make sure your child is following the rules.

Finally, any time that your child expresses a desire to explore new technologies — whether it’s social media, video streaming services, or something else — it can be useful to have a digital device contract in place to help them understand the consequences of their actions. This can also be a great time to sit down and have an open conversation about the potential dangers of these new technologies and how they should be used safely. 

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing a Digital Device Contract


Talking about your kid’s online activity only when the contract is first implemented

Parents often make the mistake of thinking that talking to their kids about digital device contracts is a one-time conversation. But this type of dialogue should be an ongoing process throughout your child’s development as they learn how to safely and responsibly use technology. It's important for parents to stay informed on the latest trends in online safety, such as popular phishing scams or major password breaches. That way, you can discuss these topics with your children in an age-appropriate manner. 

Not providing enough detail

It’s important for both parties to understand exactly what is expected from them, so that everyone knows where they stand if any issues arise later on down the line. Be sure to explain each rule clearly and provide examples if necessary. Give your child space to ask questions while you review the contract. 

Not including consequences or enforcement measures

Kids need to know that there are real repercussions for not following through with the terms of the agreement; otherwise, why bother making one at all? Make sure you outline clear consequences ahead of time and enforce them consistently when needed.

Not setting expectations for yourself as a parent

It's important to remember that you, as the parent, have a responsibility as well. Make sure you set realistic expectations for yourself: be diligent about monitoring your child’s online activity and checking in from time to time to make sure they are abiding by the contract. If there are any issues, be sure to address them immediately and take corrective action if needed. 

You also have the opportunity to lead by example; if your child agrees not to use their phone during meals, you should stay off your phone, too.

Not revisiting the terms of the contract

Lastly, don't forget to revisit the digital use contract periodically with your child as they grow and learn. As technology advances, so too will the risks associated with it; being aware of these changes can help you keep your child safe online.

By following these tips, you can help ensure that your conversation about digital device contracts goes smoothly and that everyone understands the expectations set out in the agreement. To get started customizing your own contract, download this free template

Mother and daughter on bed looking at tablet

You gave your kid a new device, but neglected to make rules around its use. Perhaps you were caught up in the excitement or thought you could wing it. A few months in, as you watch them glued to their iPad for hours or catch them scrolling TikTok under the covers late into the night, you regret your hands-off attitude. You might be thinking, “How do I put restrictions on my child’s phone now?” 

In reality, it’s never too late to go back and add rules for your child. That’s right — I said what I said. Your kid might beg to differ, but they’re not the parent. You are. Here’s how to buckle up and set new device rules.

Why device rules are important 

It’s a good idea to have at least some basic rules in place around screen time and devices. Here’s why: 

  • Excessive screen time: Research indicates that excessive screen time may lead to negative physiological and psychological effects, such as a lack of physical activity, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, depression, and an increased risk of suicidal ideation
  • The harms of social media: Cyberbullying, anxiety, and negative impacts on self-esteem and body image are just a few of the potential consequences kids face from social media. In fact, the American Psychological Association recommends monitoring social media for all kids under 15.
  • Predators: As many as 20% of children were contacted or solicited by online predators in the last year. 
  • Exposure to harmful content: With the entire internet at their fingertips and no guardrails, it’s all too easy for kids to come across content that isn’t appropriate for their age. 
  • Relationship to technology: Rules help your child learn to use devices safely and responsibly, and set them up for a healthier long-term relationship with technology. 

How do I put restrictions on my child’s phone? 

There isn’t just one right way to add rules. Here are some suggestions so you can find the right fit for your family: 

Screen time limits

Depending on their age, your child may need strict limits or a more flexible approach. There isn’t a gold standard for screen time by age, but at minimum, it’s a good idea to limit screens an hour before bed so it doesn’t interfere with sleep quality. You may also want to implement screen-free times and device-free zones — aka places in the house where devices can and can’t be used. For example, if family mealtime is a value in your house, keep devices away from the dinner table. 

Behavior expectations

Be clear about the kind of behavior that’s acceptable online and what isn’t. Just as you expect your child not to bully others in real life, explain that it’s important to treat others how they would like to be treated online, too. The anonymity of the internet can sometimes make kids feel more comfortable behaving in ways they wouldn’t normally, like making fun of others or leaving harassing comments. Remind your child that what they share online exists forever, and they can be held accountable for their actions. 

Part of this rule-setting involves safety behavior, too. Talk to your child about stranger danger and why they shouldn’t share personal information with people they don’t know. Set a rule that if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, they should talk to you or another trusted adult.

Supervision and privacy settings

Apple and Android phones have in-depth parental control features that allow parents to set limits around who can contact their child, what they can download, and even how much time they spend on certain websites. For example, Apple Screen Time allows parents to prevent their kids from accessing explicit media, apps, and websites. Use these settings to add restrictions to your child’s devices for free.

Parental monitoring apps, such as BrightCanary, give you visibility into what your child encounters on social media, YouTube, Google, and text messages. If your child uses these platforms, you can make BrightCanary a condition for using their device. For example, they can only have an Instagram account if they share their password with you, agree to BrightCanary monitoring, and make their Instagram account private.

Tips for implementing new device rules

So often, we’re told that we must remain firm with our kids or else. But the truth is, you are allowed to change your mind and add new rules after you realize the current plan isn’t working. The same goes for setting a boundary that you later realize is too strict. 

Change your mind too often, and your kids may spot an inroad for gaming the system, but occasional shifts demonstrate flexibility and teach your kids the importance of incorporating new information into the decision-making process. 

Here are some tips for explaining the new rules to your kids: 

Provide context 

Explain why you changed your mind and what you hope the new rules will accomplish. Be prepared for pushback — your kid is likely to be upset about the new rules. Let them know their opinion is heard and their feelings are valid, but remain steadfast on your decision. 

Solicit their input 

Look for opportunities for your child to be involved in creating the new rules. Perhaps you want them to engage in more screen-free activities. Ask them what they think are reasonable screen time limits to accomplish this. You have the final say, but allowing them to have input is more likely to result in buy-in. (You also might be surprised by what they come up with.)

Creating accountability 

Once the new rules are set, it’s important to create a plan for enforcement. Here are some strategies to ensure accountability: 

  • Implement a digital device contract. Use this template to put your new rules into writing. 
  • Mandatory parental monitoring: Apps like BrightCanary that monitor your child’s online activity are an excellent way to make sure they hold up their end of the bargain. 
  • Parental controls: Set up parental controls on your child’s device and frequently used apps. 
  • Digital check-ins: Regularly sit with your child and look at their device, social media feeds, and text threads together. 

In short

It’s never too late to implement rules around device use with your child. The key is to be clear and firm and create a means for accountability. 

Mom looking at phone on couch

You’ve taken all the right steps to monitor your child’s text messages. The device contract is signed, you hold regular tech check-ins, and you’ve signed up for a monitoring app. Great job! But do you know what to do when your child sends inappropriate texts? What if you discover they sent explicit images, shared violent videos, or bullied one of their peers? 

The answer is not to freak out, throw their phone in the trash, and ground them for life. Read on for practical tips on talking to your child about sending inappropriate text messages. 

What is considered inappropriate messages?

Text messages and social media messaging can be full of concerning content for kids, and that can lead to some pretty questionable behavior. 

Here are some examples of what you might find: 

  • Sexts: These are explicit pictures or messages your child has sent of themselves or someone else. 
  • Bullying: Cyberbullying has surpassed other forms of bullying as the number one form of harassment among middle and high school kids, according to Pew Research Center. Messages and group chats are a prime place where this can happen.
  • Private made public: Kids might take a screenshot of private conversations or pictures and share them to a wider audience. 
  • Inappropriate videos: It’s relatively easy for kids to find videos that contain gore, violence, adult behavior, and other material that kids may not be prepared to handle on their own. Kids may send each other links to these videos for the shock-factor.

Why kids send inappropriate messages

There are many reasons a child may send inappropriate messages. That could include peer pressure, the desire for acceptance, and attention seeking. It’s also important to remember their brains are still under construction. 

The prefrontal cortex, involved in things like decision-making, doesn’t finish developing until around age 25. That means kids can be impulsive, without thinking through the consequences of their actions. It’s not dissimilar from the reasons kids misbehave or rebel in other ways, but the sheer scale of inappropriate messages online can feel like uncharted territory — especially to parents who didn’t grow up in the digital era. 

The best time to talk to your child about inappropriate messages

Establishing expectations for responsible behavior over messages should ideally start before you hand your child their first device, and it should be an ongoing conversation as they grow up. 

If that ship has already sailed, let this be your sign to start now, before you discover an issue. And if that ship has already sailed and you’ve come to this article because you just found something upsetting on your child’s phone, take a deep breath, take the time you need to calm down, and get to it. 

While early is best, it’s never too late. You’ve got this! 

How to talk to your child about sending inappropriate messages

When you talk to your child about the inappropriate messages you found, it’s important to know both what to say and how to say it. Here are some tips for both: 

How to talk to your child: 

  • Keep your cool: The goal is open communication and a constructive resolution. That’s hard to do when you’re through the roof. Regulate your own emotions before you approach your child. 
  • Listen: Try to avoid jumping to conclusions before you’ve had a chance to talk to your child. The more open-minded you can be going into your conversation, the more you can be a supportive force for helping them right the course. 
  • Avoid shaming: Listen. You’re mad, and that’s normal. It’s okay to let your child know you’re upset. But shame is counterproductive. Make it clear that your love for your child is unconditional and nothing they can do will change that. Let them know they are more than their mistakes and that you’ll be here to support them as they move through this one.   

What to say: 

  • Explain your concerns: Did what they sent hurt someone else? Are you worried about the consequences for their own life? Be explicit about your concerns and why what they did wasn’t okay.
  • Discuss the implications: Talk to your child about how to live out their values in a digital space. Make sure they understand the importance of considering their digital footprint
  • Come up with a plan: Start by asking your child what they think should be done to make things right. You might be surprised by their insightfulness. After they’re done, fill in any gaps if needed. Solutions might include apologizing to the person they harassed, or asking the person they sent an explicit message to delete it. 
  • Look forward: Once the situation at hand is settled, make your expectations going forward crystal-clear. Write or revise your digital device contract to make sure it includes texting and messaging behavior. 

In short

If you discover your child has sent inappropriate messages, it’s important to approach them with a calm, open manner and discuss both the short- and long-term implications of their actions.

Girl texting on floor

What are the benefits of text message monitoring? Research suggests that staying aware of what your child is up to can lower depressive symptoms and lead to fewer risky behaviors. And we know that text messaging opens kids up to specific risks like viewing explicit images, cyberbullying, toxic group chats, and online predators. Given these factors, it’s wise to monitor your child’s text messages. However, exactly what shape that monitoring takes will vary from family to family. 

Is reading my child’s text messages an invasion of privacy?

Children deserve a reasonable level of privacy. Younger kids need more hands-on supervision, while older teens can have more independence, depending on their maturity level. Spying on your child (except in rare, extenuating circumstances) is a violation of that privacy. But there’s a big difference between snooping around behind your child’s back and taking an active role in their digital life. 

The key distinction is transparency. Be clear about how you expect your child to behave when they’re texting friends and what they should do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable. Let them know ahead of time that you will be monitoring their messages, and be specific about what that monitoring will look like. 

Some parents choose to make text message monitoring a condition for letting their child use their device: in order to use their phone, the child has to let their parent monitor their text messages. 

Think about it this way: you wouldn’t drop your child off in the middle of a crowd in a strange place and expect them to be fine. With parental monitoring, including text message monitoring, you’re guiding and protecting your child during a pivotal, and impressionable, time in their development.

How to monitor your child’s texts

The key to effectively monitoring your child’s texts is to pair it with other strategies. Here are some approaches we recommend: 

  • Tech check-ins: Regularly look at your child’s phone with them, discussing what you find. Keep it light and non-judgemental. The goal is to get the lay of their digital landscape and demonstrate your interest. 
  • Open-door policy: Demonstrate through words and actions that your child can come to you with their problems, and you’ll support them through it.
  • Direct monitoring: Consider doing spot-checks where you ask your child to hand over their device so you can look through it. 
  • Remote monitoring: Apps like BrightCanary scan your child’s text messages on Apple devices, alerting you to any issues. This is a great way to give older kids some privacy, while staying abreast of any concerns. Instead of reading every text message, you can step in when you get an alert.

When should parents stop monitoring their child’s texts? 

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for the right time to stop reading your child’s texts. Ideally, your involvement in their digital life should shift as they age and demonstrate maturity and responsibility. Here are some factors to consider when setting your text message monitoring strategy:

  • Age: As kids first learn to use technology, they need more guidance on how to do so safely and responsibly. But as they age, it’s vital they learn independence. Over time, take steps back and trust the groundwork you’ve laid.  
  • Maturity: Some kids are ready for independence sooner than others. Think about how your child handles other responsibilities. Chances are that same behavior applies to texting, too. 
  • Temperament: If your child engages in risky behavior offline, they’re more likely to do the same in digital spaces. You know your child. Trust your instincts on how much monitoring they need. 

What if my child reacts negatively to text message monitoring?

Your child might not like the idea of text message monitoring, and you should prepare yourself for that possibility. Here are some talking points to help you navigate the conversation: 

  • “I respect your privacy, but I also need to make sure you’re safe.”
  • “My job is to help you learn how to use a phone safely and responsibly. Looking at your phone is one way I do that.”
  • “These are the situations in which I may need to look at your messages.” 
  • “Let’s talk about what I’m looking for, what I expect from you, and how we can handle it together if I find something concerning.”

Pro tip: You can use a digital device contract to lay out the terms of how you’ll monitor your child’s texts, plus consequences for breaking those rules and expectations.

What do I do if I find something inappropriate on my child’s phone?

If you come across something inappropriate on your child’s phone, here are steps you can take to address it: 

  • Stay calm: Freaking out is an almost guaranteed way to shut down your chances at a productive conversation. Approach your child in a non-judgemental manner. That may mean you need to take some time between finding the upsetting content and talking to them. 
  • Listen: Try to avoid jumping to conclusions before you’ve had a chance to talk to your child. The more open-minded you can be going into your conversation, the more you can be a supportive force for helping them right the course. 
  • Examine your limits: It may be time to set new expectations for your child’s phone use, or it may be a matter of reiterating existing boundaries and asking your child to recommit to them.
  • Know when to get help: If what you found on your child’s phone involves self-harm, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, or anything else that raises major alarm bells for you, consider enlisting the help of a professional. 

In short

It’s important that parents take an active role in their child’s digital life. Depending on the child’s age, that includes text message monitoring. In order to respect your child’s privacy, it’s important to be transparent and set clear expectations every step of the way. Ready to get started with text message monitoring? With BrightCanary, parents can supervise their child’s texts on Apple devices. Start your free trial today.

Teen looking down at desk

Welcome to Parent Pixels, a parenting newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. This week:

  • NYC Mayor Adams dubbed social media an “environmental health toxin,” and a new Common Sense Media survey finds that 20% of teens feel social media is the main cause of today’s youth mental health crisis — what does this mean for parents?
  • We share tips on how to monitor your child’s social media accounts and how to use parental control settings and apps that your kid can’t easily delete.
  • More updates to parental controls from Meta: Instagram will restrict strangers from sending unsolicited messages to teens, which feels like something that should have been implemented a while ago.

Digital Parenting

Today’s teens see mental health as their top challenge

Last week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams issued a health advisory about social media due to its impact on children. Mayor Adams designated social media an “environmental health toxin,” stating, “Companies like TikTok, YouTube, [and] Facebook are fueling a mental health crisis by designing their platform with addictive and dangerous features. We can not stand by and let big tech monetize our children's privacy and jeopardize their mental health.”

The health advisory aligns with findings from a recent survey published by Common Sense Media, which examined the state of kids and families in America in 2024. Based on responses from about 1,220 children and teens aged 12–17 nationwide, more adolescents are concerned about their mental health today than were previous generations. 

Some notable statistics from the survey:

  • 30% of kids and teens say the biggest problem they face today are mental health challenges. Girls were more likely than boys to say so (35% vs. 24%). 
  • 65% of teens rate the mental health of kids and teenagers in their community as just fair or poor.
  • 20% of teens feel the negative impact of social media is the main cause of today’s youth mental health crisis, followed by bullying and discrimination (18%). 

Social media isn’t the only factor impacting the youth mental health crisis. In a conversation with Education Week, Sharon Hoover — co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health — pointed to a range of factors that could be contributing to declining mental health among kids and teens, such as housing insecurity and food insecurity. These issues were exacerbated by the pandemic, to the point that living in an area with more severe COVID-19 outbreaks was deemed a risk factor for youth mental health symptoms.

Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a health advisory warning that social media is a concern for adolescents. Excessive social media use is associated with depression and anxiety, as well as downstream effects from negative impacts on sleep quality. The key word here is “excessive” — it’s important for parents to set guardrails around the level of access kids have online, including how much time they spend on social media (and screens in general). 

Here are some places to start:

  • Have a conversation about limits and boundaries. Decide on screen time limits what work for your family, and explain why it’s a good idea to put down the phone before bed. Consider putting these rules into a digital device contract.
  • Use parental controls. Many major social media platforms have robust parental control settings that allow you to limit what your child sees and how much time they spend on the app. Use them.
  • Monitor your child’s online activity. Experts recommend monitoring social media accounts for kids under age 15, in part so parents can catch red flags before they turn into serious situations. 

Practical Parenting Tips

Social media monitoring 101: How to monitor your child’s accounts

Social media monitoring refers to supervising your child’s activity on social networks, such as Instagram and TikTok. The most effective plan for monitoring a child’s social media accounts employs a mix of approaches. Here are some options to explore.

Parental control apps and settings your kid can’t delete

A frustrating number of parental control settings are designed in such a way that kids can easily bypass or even change them, rendering them all but useless. Luckily, there are options which allow parents to set boundaries and have some peace of mind.

What’s Catching Our Eye

👀 Do social media insiders let their kids use platforms like Instagram and TikTok? Parents working at large tech companies said they did not trust that their employers and their industry would prioritize child safety without public and legal pressure, the Guardian reports.

📱 Meta has rolled out a few updates for teen users: new “nighttime nudges” will remind teens to go to sleep when they use Instagram late at night, and Instagram will restrict strangers from sending unsolicited messages to teens who don’t follow them. Meta will also allow guardians to allow or deny changes in default privacy settings made by teens.

🏛️ The Florida House has passed a bill to ban social media accounts for users under age 16. The bill doesn’t list which platforms would be affected, but it targets any social media site that tracks user activity, allows children to upload material and interact with others, and uses addictive features designed to cause excessive or compulsive use.

📍 With just a few pieces of information, this TikToker can pinpoint your exact location — and it’s a great lesson in online safety.

Parent Pixels is a biweekly newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. Want this newsletter delivered to your inbox a day early? Subscribe here.

Mother and child looking at tablet together

Parents are told all the time how important it is that kids not get too much screen time. But how much is too much? How do you know when you’ve reached that point? And — most importantly — how do you get your kid to actually step away from the screen? We break down recommended screen time by age, plus tips to help your child put down their screens when time is up. 

Recommended screen time by age

While headlines often depict screen time as a black-and-white issue, suggesting immediate dire consequences if your child exceeds screen time limits by even a minute, the actual research is less conclusive and expert recommendations are more nuanced.

Here are the current guidelines from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP): 

  • Under 2: No screen time, with the exception of video chats. 
  • Ages 2-5: Limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours per day on weekends.
  • Ages 6+: Encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.

Signs your child is getting too much screen time

If the lack of definitive guidelines for older children, teens, and tweens leaves you feeling like you’re floundering in the dark, don’t worry. There’s still plenty of expert guidance to help you determine when your child is getting too much screen time so you can adjust accordingly. 

Here are some signs to watch for: 

  • Disrupted sleep 
  • Trouble stopping screen time when asked 
  • New or worsening behavioral problems 
  • Impaired academic performance 
  • Difficulty focusing 

Tips for reigning in screen time by age

Below, we’ll walk through some tips to set boundaries around screen time in and around the home. It’s a good idea to lay out these rules in a digital device contract that you discuss with your kids and revisit as they grow older. 

Younger kids

For preschool- and elementary-aged kids, parents should still be fairly involved in their screen-time routine. 

Tips for younger kids: 

  • Screen time limits: Although experts don’t specify a set number of hours for kids over six, that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t set limits. Look at your family’s routine and consider your child’s schedule, temperament, and needs when deciding how much is too much. 
  • Use parental controls: In addition to using parental controls to limit inappropriate content, many devices allow you to also set screen time limits. For example, Apple Family Sharing is a free, robust suite of features that allow you to set a screen time schedule for your child’s devices, among other helpful features.

Tweens

By the time kids reach their middle school years, parents can start giving a little more leeway, but should maintain plenty of hands-on involvement. 

Tips for tweens:

  • More flexible limits: Instead of a set amount of screen time each day, you might try other limits such as finishing all homework first or no screens after dinner. 
  • Talk about healthy screen habits: Educate your child on the consequences of too much screen time. Help them learn to recognize for themselves when they’ve overdone it.

Teens

The teenage years are a time for preparing to be an adult while still under the watchful eye and protective wing of actual adults. Teens still need some guardrails, but it’s important they start learning how to manage their own screen habits. 

Tips for teens: 

  • No-phone zones: Establish areas of the home where phones aren’t allowed, such as bedrooms or the dining table. This creates natural device barriers and encourages healthy habits. 
  • Screen-free times: Decide when screens are a no-go, such as before school, during dinner, or an hour before bed. 
  • Use apps: Apps aimed at helping users understand and regulate their screen time can be a valuable tool as teens have more autonomy with their devices. 

Additional tips for all ages

Regardless of your child’s age, here are some tips to help limit their screen time: 

  • Encourage other activities: Getting your child involved in extracurriculars or encouraging them to pursue a hobby can naturally limit their screen time because they will be busy with other things. 
  • Plan screen-free family time: Activities like family game night, bowling, or hiking are fun ways to get your kids away from their screens. 
  • Lead by example: Examine your own screen habits and see where you can cut down. Not only will this benefit your health and wellbeing, but it also sets a great example for your kids to follow.  
  • Adjust as needed: Remember, nothing is set in stone. If you realize your approach is either too strict or too permissive, it can always be adjusted.  

The takeaway 

Screens are an unavoidable part of modern life, but it’s important that children develop healthy limits around their use. Parents should adjust their approach as children age to help them maintain balance and learn how to manage screen time on their own.

Mother and son looking at laptop

What are your resolutions this year? Start an exercise routine? Learn a new skill? Make regular date nights an actual thing? As you write your list for 2024, don’t forget to include New Year’s resolutions for parents to help you keep your kids on track with reasonable device use and a responsible social media presence. 

Here are some suggestions to add to your 2024 resolution list: 

Have regular tech check-ins with my kid

Sit down with your child on a regular basis to look at their device. View some of the content they’re consuming, including their social media feeds with them. During your check-ins, talk to your child about how to use their values to inform responsible online decision making. Regular tech check-ins not only help you keep an eye on your child’s online activity, but they also set a precedent of open communication — making your child more likely to come to you if they run into a problem online. 

Practice what I preach and stop using my phone as often at home

Our kids are watching. And if they see us glued to our phones nonstop, it’s much harder to enforce reasonable device restrictions for them. Practices like no-phone zones, device “bedtimes,” and screen-free family dates are great ways to model appropriate digital behavior for our children.  

Talk to my child about cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is an unfortunate reality of modern childhood — one that can have serious consequences for kids. But there are steps you can take to help your child navigate these tricky waters. For more information on talking to your child about cyberbullying, check out our comprehensive guide

Implement a digital device contract in the New Year

Digital device contracts are an effective way to enforce household expectations and help your children use technology safely and responsibly. You can download our customizable device contract template here. We suggest including things like daily time limits for devices, rules around websites they can visit, and the expectation they respond promptly to texts and calls from parents.  

Sign up for a monitoring service to keep tabs on my child’s online activity

There’s no substitute for hands-on monitoring of your child’s online activity. But a service like BrightCanary can help fill in the gaps. Using advanced AI technology, BrightCanary scans your child’s text messages and online accounts, alerting you to concerning content so you can address it. 

Set up parental control settings on my child’s device and accounts

Between the parental controls already available on Apple and Android devices and the options available on specific apps, caregivers have a lot of ability to customize what their child can access online. For more information and platform-specific guides, check out our parental controls resource page

Talk to my child about online predators

It’s as important as ever to talk to kids about stranger danger, but much of the risk has moved online with as many as 20% of children contacted by an online predator last year alone. It’s never too early (or too late) to have the conversation. Here are some tips to get you started. 

The bottom line

The start of a new year is the perfect time to set goals, establish new habits, and devise an action plan. While planning your 2024 goals, consider how you can play a more active role in your child's online life, whether they're getting their first phone or are already a pro at using their tablet. You’ve got this, parent!

Closeup of hands using phones

It’s a familiar scene of modern parenting: your kid, hunched over their iPhone, furiously texting. You, dying to know what they’re saying. But should parents read their child’s text messages? If you decide to monitor your kid’s text messages on iPhone, how do you do it?

Texting can expose your child to various concerns, including phishing scams, harassment, and predators. This article will explore how to determine the level of oversight needed for your child's text messages and share practical methods for monitoring them both effectively and respectfully.

Should parents read their child’s text messages?

Gen Z is notoriously averse to phone calls, with as many as 75% preferring to text instead. But with the popularity of this communication method comes a host of safety concerns. Parents need to understand the risks their children may encounter over text and take steps to help them stay safe. As you decide if you should read your child’s texts, here are a few factors to consider: 

Safety

It’s wise to have some level of engagement with your child’s text messages, either by directly monitoring them or by regularly asking about their conversations. 

Beyond the worst-case scenario of a predator, monitoring your child’s texts also helps you make sure their peer relationships are healthy, the content they’re viewing is age-appropriate, and that they’re not up to trouble. 

Privacy and independence 

Holding the reins too tightly inhibits your child’s ability to learn independence and valuable life skills, so it’s important to strike a balance between supervising and stifling. 

Rather than reading every message (who has time for that?!), using spot-checks or a service that alerts you to concerning content gives your child freedom while ensuring you can spot any trouble.

Also, consider the privacy of those your child communicates with. If you find something alarming about another kid, you’ll have to decide how to alert their caregivers. 

Risks kids face from text messaging

By now, parents are well aware of the dangers of social media. But the reality is that texting exposes kids to plenty of concerning material as well. Here are some of the dangers parents need to be aware of: 

  • Explicit images: A quarter of teens say they’ve been sent explicit images that they didn’t ask for and 57% of parents of teens say they worry about their teen receiving or sending explicit images. Girls are more likely than boys to report being the recipient of explicit images they did not ask for (29% vs. 20%).
  • Cyberbullying: Text messages are a common place for cyberbullying to take place. Sixty percent of girls and 59% of boys have experienced some form of cyberbullying
  • Group chats: Although group chats can be great for social interaction, these conversations can also lead to things like social exclusion and toxicity. They can also contribute to screen addiction and sleep problems for tweens and teens. 
  • Scams: Between 2017 and 2021, the number of young people under 20 scammed online increased over 1,000%. Many scammers use texts to identify and pursue victims, including sending scam links and pretending to be someone they’re not.
  • Predators: Statistics show that as many as 20% of children were contacted or solicited by an online predator in the last year. Some tactics include using texts to catfish and unsolicited sexting.  

Can I see my child’s messages on iPhone?

By now, you might be wondering, “Okay, texting is risky. But how do I see my child’s text messages on iPhone?” There are a few different ways.

If your child uses an iPhone, you can log into their iCloud account on another device and see all of their messages. However, you’ll have to manually skim through each of their messages to find any red flags. 

With BrightCanary text message monitoring, advanced technology automatically flags concerning material, such as explicit language, alcohol and drug references, and more. You can also monitor your child’s social media and YouTube accounts from your phone. 

Other apps promise to let you see your child’s text messages, but many of them aren’t very reliable or easy to use. 

For example, Bark requires that you install a desktop app on your home computer, then plug in your child’s phone. You can only monitor text messages on iPhone when your child’s device is home and on the same Wi-Fi as your computer.

BrightCanary is different. Simply log into your child’s iCloud account, and the app will automatically begin monitoring new text messages sent to your child’s device — including group chats. Download BrightCanary here to get a free trial.

What about Apple’s Parental Controls?

Using Apple Family Sharing, you can establish limits on who your child messages and when. You can also set parental controls that perform a variety of safety tasks, such as blurring images that contain nudity and turning on location sharing

Monitoring apps and parental controls are useful, but they’re only part of the puzzle. The most reliable method for monitoring your child’s texts is to look at their messages and talk to them about their experience. 

How to talk to your kids about reading their texts

The best thing you can do to keep your kid safe is to establish a framework of mutual trust. The specific details of how, when, and if you monitor their text messages is less important than open, honest communication. 

Here are some tips for broaching the topic: 

Respect their privacy 

Don’t spy on your child’s texts. If they find out you’ve invaded their privacy without their knowledge, they’re less likely to come to you if they’re in trouble. 

Instead, let them know your plan beforehand. Explain when and why you’re going to review their text messages. They may not like it, but at least they won’t feel like you went behind their back. 

If you’re stumped, consider this conversation starter: “I respect your privacy, but I also need to make sure you’re safe. Here are the situations where I may need to look at your messages.”

Set clear expectations

Be upfront about how and when you’ll read your child’s text messages and what you’re looking for. You should also be clear about your red-flag concerns, such as suicidal thoughts, bullying, and involvement with a predator. 

Let them know that if you find anything worrisome, you’ll address the issue together. 

Implement a digital device contract

After you’ve established a plan for monitoring your child’s messages, consider writing it into a digital device contract. This will solidify expectations on both sides and help create accountability. 

How to help your child text safely

Given the risks facing kids on text, parents should treat this space with the same caution they do social media and device use.

Here are some ways you can help your child stay safe when texting: 

Discuss the dangers and responsibilities of text messaging 

Talk to your child about things like online predators, explicit messages, and cyberbullying. Help them learn to identify troubling messages and encourage them to come to you for help if they receive any. 

Establish open communication

Be clear with your child that you are a safe space and they can come to you for unconditional support and help if they run into trouble. 

Check your child’s phone 

Regularly sit with your child and look at their messages together. Make these reviews a condition of them having a device. Set this expectation with them ahead of time so they don’t feel blindsided. Let them know you’re on their side and be clear that you looking at their messages isn’t a punishment — it’s a way to keep them safe. 

Frequently asked questions

Is there a safe chat app for kids? 

The safest chat apps, such as Messenger Kids and Kinzoo, don’t allow strangers to message your child. This limitation minimizes some concerns, but it’s still a good idea to play a hands-on role in monitoring their messages. 

What age should parents stop checking their kids’ phones?

 Deciding when to stop checking your child's phone largely depends on their individual maturity level and the trust you've established with them. As children grow and demonstrate responsible behavior, it's essential for parents to gradually grant more privacy to foster independence. 

It's a good practice to maintain open communication with your child about this topic and adjust your approach based on their development and the unique dynamics of your relationship.

How do I monitor my child’s text messages on Android?

You can monitor your child’s text messages and social media messages on Android using Google Family Link.

In short

While texting is a wonderful way for kids to maintain friendships and exercise their independence, there are a number of concerns parents should recognize. It’s advisable to maintain some level of involvement in your child’s text messages, using a combination of monitoring and open communication. 

Family looking in shop window

You knew this time would come, and now the day is finally here: your kid’s first phone. Before you wrestle with the wrapping paper, stick on a bow, and prepare yourself for preteen squeals of delight, there are some important things to do first. A first phone for kids is a big step, but with some proper planning, you’ll set them up for success by teaching healthy tech boundaries. 

1. Establish rules and expectations 

Be clear with your child that a phone is a big responsibility and that your job as a parent is to provide them with the guardrails they need to learn how to manage it. 

The rules and expectations you set will depend on your child’s age and maturity level, as well as your family values. Some common rules involve when and where the phone can be used, what it can be used for, and who it can be used to communicate with. 

2. Discuss safety 

A phone opens up a whole new world of independence, and with that comes the need to focus on safety. Emphasize the importance of not making their number widely available and only talking and messaging with people they know. This is also a great time to discuss staying safe from online predators

3. Plan for check-ins

Regular tech check-ins are a great way to keep tabs on what your child is doing on their phone. It’s also helpful to establish clear lines of communication so they feel comfortable coming to you for help if they run into trouble. 

Sit down with your child on a regular basis to look at their phone together. Check out things like text messages, browser history, and apps. 

In the beginning, it helps to put these check-ins on the calendar until it becomes a habit. Even if your child is tempted to hide some material when they know a check-in is coming, some oversight is better than nothing.

4. Set up monitoring 

While there’s no substitute for the hands-on approach of regular tech check-ins, it’s also impossible for parents to catch everything. That’s where a service like BrightCanary is a lifesaver. 

BrightCanary uses AI technology to scan your child’s activity on YouTube, Google, TikTok, and Instagram. The app alerts you to any red flags that need your attention, so you can talk about them together. 

Before you hand over their shiny new phone, set up an account on BrightCanary and explain to your kids why and how it will be used. 

5. Review screen-free times and zones in the home

If your child is already using a tablet or other device, you’ve likely already set some rules around where and when that device can be used. But the portable, fits-in-your-pocket nature of a phone can make it tempting to pull their phone out at any time and place. Emphasize that the same screen-free times and zones apply to their phone. For example: no devices in the bedroom, at the dinner table, or in the car. 

6. Set up parental controls 

Take advantage of the parental controls built into your child’s new phone. The options will vary depending on the device, but a few to look for are screen time limits, downtimes when the device can’t be used, content restrictions, and app restrictions. 

Good news if you’re giving your kid an iPhone: Apple devices have robust parental controls that you can set up as soon as your child has their own iCloud account.

7. Implement a digital device contract 

After you’ve decided on the rules and expectations around your kid’s new phone, write it into a digital device contract. This document helps make sure everyone is on the same page and emphasizes the importance of the things you’ve agreed upon.

In short 

Your child’s first phone can feel like a huge milestone. But it doesn’t have to be scary. Set yourself and your kid up for success by laying the groundwork ahead of time. 

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