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

Teen girl texting on phone

Text messaging opens your child up to risks such as cyberbullying, sexting, and toxic group chats. But texting also brings plenty of positives, like increased connection with friends and the ability to stay in contact with you when you’re not with them. As you get ready to hand your child their new device, it’s useful to create a family texting contract with expectations on how they will behave with their new privileges. 

What is a family texting contract?

A family texting contract is an agreement between parents and children that establishes rules and expectations for text messaging. For instance, a rule might require your child to reply to your texts promptly when they're out of the house. 

While some parents might incorporate these rules into a broader digital device contract — which covers general device use, such as screen time limits and prohibited locations for phone use — a family texting contract specifically targets text messaging. Choose the option that best suits your family's needs.

How to decide rules in your family texting contract

When it comes to setting rules, the approach matters. Waiting to angrily impose a rule when you’re fed up with a behavior is less likely to be successful than if you set thoughtful expectations from the start and adjust as needed over time. It’s worth taking the time to create your family’s texting rules before your child starts texting. But if that ship has already sailed, it’s never too late to set new boundaries — just be prepared for an adjustment period as your child gets used to the new law of the land. 

Factors to consider 

Here are some things to consider as you decide what texting boundaries to set:

  • Your child’s relationship to technology: Is your kiddo the rare breed who couldn’t care less about screens, or do they have a hard time following existing screen time limits? Do they make responsible choices about what content to consume, or are you constantly finding them where they shouldn’t be on the internet? The harder it is for your child to regulate their own use of screens, the more support they’ll need from you in the form of texting guidelines. 
  • Your relationship to technology: Every parent has a different threshold for acceptable device use. Parents who are constantly on their own phones likely have a higher threshold for what’s okay than ones who use their phones more lightly. 
  • How your partner or co-parent feels: Texting rules will be more effective if everyone is on the same page. Work collaboratively with your child’s other parent to create expectations that work for you both. 

Involving your child in the process

You have the final say, but the more input your child has in deciding what goes on the family texting contract, the more buy in you’ll get. They also might surprise you with what they come up with. Explain why you think it’s important to set texting guidelines and ask them what they think should be included. 

Suggested rules and guidelines for a family texting contract 

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Always reply to a parent’s texts as soon as possible.
  • Don’t reply to people you don’t know.
  • Don’t tap on unfamiliar links from unknown numbers (they could be scams or phishing attempts).
  • Avoid sharing personal information in texts, like passwords. 
  • Set your phone to “do not disturb” during homework time, in class, and before bed.
  • No texting at the dinner table. 
  • Allow parents to perform spot-checks of your phone to make sure you’re following the rules and watch for any safety concerns. 
  • Consent to the use of a text message monitoring app for iPhone like BrightCanary
  • Practice respectful texting etiquette

How to implement your family texting contract

Once you’ve decided your new texting rules, it’s time to put them in place. Here are some tips: 

  • Write them down: Put your rules in writing with a digital device contract (free download). Revise the contract as your child gets more phone privileges, such as social media accounts. 
  • Periodically evaluate the rules: After the new rules have been in place for a bit, sit down as a family and discuss what’s working and what’s not. Amend as needed. Adjustments can also be made as your child gets older to allow more freedom or when factors change, such as when they start driving (no texting behind the wheel!). 
  • Model healthy texting behavior: This one is perhaps the hardest, but also one of the most important elements of creating a family agreement for text messaging. While it’s reasonable for adults to behave differently when it comes to texting, it’s still important for you to model healthy behavior, such as putting the phone away during meals and before bed and not being constantly glued to your screen. Our children are watching (and learning) from our behavior. 

In short

Allowing your child to start texting is a big step. By thoughtfully implementing guidelines and behavior expectations, you will help them establish a healthy relationship to texting. 

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. 

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!

So, you’ve decided it’s time to get your kid a device of their own. If they’ve been pestering you for a while, or you’ve felt uncomfortable not having a way to get in touch with your child, the decision might bring relief. But now you may be wondering, smartphone or smart watch? Or, eek, both? We’re here to help with that next big decision.

Weighing the Benefits and Risks

There are some definite upsides to giving your child a smart device. Having the ability to easily communicate with your child or track their whereabouts can ease your nerves. Perhaps you tween or teen wants to message and game with their friends. Maybe the health and fitness functionality available on smart devices is appealing to you and your child. 

Smartphones and smart watches have no shortage of compelling features. But, as a parent, you’re likely weighing those benefits against the privacy risks, safety concerns, screen time considerations, and need for parental supervision that come with kids and technology. 

To help determine which device is best for your child, consider your answers to the following questions:

Why am I buying a device for my child? 

Let’s say you want a way to communicate with your child and introduce them to the responsibilities of owning their own device — but you don’t want to introduce them to social media just yet. A smart watch may be the ideal choice. 

Look for a phone-free smart watch that allows for two-way text messaging, voice calls, and location tracking. For example, with the Garmin Bounce, you can sign up for a monthly LTE subscription (without needing to switch phone providers). The XPLORA X5 Play is another option with extra parental controls — the smart watch only receives calls from a specific list of saved numbers. If you feel your child is mature and responsible enough to access the internet and social media, go with a smartphone. It’s a good idea to set up your child’s first phone together — that way, you can talk about safe phone use, such as the dangers of sharing personal information online and why they shouldn’t use their phone late at night. 

Eventually, your tween or teen may benefit from both a smartphone and a smart watch. While this may sound scary, a smart watch can be used to limit screentime during certain times of the day (during school, for example) because of its less-tempting interface and limited functionality. Even with their phone put away, your child can remain connected, but with basic notifications and voice call options only.

How old is your child? 

Your child’s age and maturity level are important factors to consider when deciding between a smartphone and smart watch, and there are several factors to weigh in determining if your child is ready for their first phone.

As parents, we want to keep our kids safe from cyberbullying and online predators, and minimize the risk of exposure to inappropriate content. It’s also no secret that kids love technology, and if they’re left to their own (literal) devices, they may find it difficult to manage their screen time. “Just five more minutes” rarely, if ever, leads to the closing of the iPad after five minutes. 

When it comes to devices for kids, less is often more (i.e. better and safer). A smart watch’s smaller screen and minimal features can be appealing if you have a younger child. You can limit the contacts associated with the watch, and many smart watches don’t have their own phone number. If you’re concerned about your child’s privacy (who isn’t?), companies won’t be able to collect as much data about your child because smart watches don’t have the same internet and social media functionality as smartphones. A watch securely strapped to your child’s wrist is also inherently more difficult to lose than a phone! 

The immersive experience of a smartphone may be too much for younger kids, but older, responsible kids may benefit from owning a phone. For example, nearly two-thirds of teenagers report that they make new friends through social media, and social media helps them feel more connected to their friends.

Fortunately, if you choose a smartphone for your child, Apple and Android devices have built-in software to help parents monitor their child’s phone. For example, Apple’s parental control features can allow and restrict certain apps, prevent explicit content, and prevent iTunes and App Store purchases without a parent’s permission. Other parental monitoring tools, like BrightCanary, allow you to easily monitor your child’s activity on social media, Google, and YouTube. As your child grows with the device and their responsibility builds, these controls can be modified. 

What’s your budget?

In general, smartphones are pricier than smart watches, but the range is quite large for both. Smartphone costs vary based on available features and performance. The basic Apple iPhone SE, for example, costs approximately $400. Other Apple models, or the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, cost more than $1,000. 

Smart watches tend to be more affordable. The Vtech KidiZoom smart watch costs as little as $45, although it doesn’t offer two-way communication. Other brands with more robust features can cost upwards of $250, such as the Apple Watch SE with GPS. 

Both smartphones and smart watches may also require you to pay a monthly contract fee for cellular service. Some smart watches, for example, can use your personal or family’s current mobile plan, while others come with their own cellular connectivity.

What do I do once I've made the decision?

There’s no doubt your tween or teen will be thrilled to hear that they’ll own a smartphone or smart watch soon. Here are five tips for your child's first phone, if you go that route. One of those tips is to use a monitoring tool like BrightCanary to supervise your child's online activity, including social media, YouTube, and messages.

Regardless of which path you choose, it’s a good idea to set rules and expectations whenever your child gets a new device. To get started, check out how to implement a digital device contract with your family.

Emojis on blue background

Bruh, I’m 🔥 AF. Say what? 

You know you should monitor your child’s texts, but actually understanding their messages is a whole other story. Like previous generations of kids, Gen Z and Gen Alpha use slang to put their own spin on the way they communicate. But with social media contributing to the rapid spread of slang and emoji meaning in text messages, it can be extra hard for modern parents to keep up. So, what are the kids saying these days? Read on for a guide to some of the most common slang and emoji meanings you might find in your child’s texts, including ones that could mean they’re up to trouble. 

Drugs, alcohol, and partying 

If you’re concerned your child might be drinking or doing drugs, here are some emojis and slang you’ll want to know:

Emojis

🤑👑💰💵🔌: Dealer advertisement

🍃🔥🌴🌲🍀😮💨: Marijuana

🍄: Hallucinogenic mushrooms 

💊: Illicit use of prescription drugs

🔵🅿️🍌: Percocet or Oxycodone

🍫🚌: Xanax

A-🚆: Adderall

🔮💙💎🧪: Meth

🤎🐉: Heroin

❄️🌨️☃️💎🎱🔑😛🐡: Cocaine

♥️⚡️❌🍬: MDMA and Molly

🍇💜🍼: Cough syrup

Slang

  • Cart: Cartridge for a vaporizer.
  • Dabbing:  Inhaling concentrated cannabis oil by dropping some on a hot surface and letting it vaporize.
  • Gas: Marijuana
  • Hulk:  A 2-mg generic benzodiazepine bar.
  • Pen:  Vape for weed or tobacco; uses cartridges.
  • Plug: Drug dealer or connection.
  • School bus:  A 2-mg Xanax bar.
  • Special K: Ketamine
  • Snow: Cocaine
  • Turnt: Having a good time, often while using drugs or alcohol.
  • Yayo: Cocaine
  • Zaza or za: Marijuana

Sexual overtones, dating, and relationships

Sexting is on the rise among kids and can come with big consequences. Here’s what you need to know to catch emoji innuendos on your child’s device:

Emojis

🍆: Penis

🍑: Butt

🥵: "Hot" in a sexual sense.

🚛:  “Dump truck,” which refers to a large and/or shapely bottom.

🌮: Vagina

🧠: Oral sex

💦: Ejaculation

👅:  May indicate sexual activity, especially oral sex.

🤤: Desiring someone sexually (often used in response to nudes).

🍒: Breasts/testicles/virginity

🍝: Represents nudes, which are often called “noods.”

🔨: Used to refer to sexual activity.

🌽: Represents "porn," especially on TikTok.

Slang

  • Rizz: Charisma or charm. 
  • Gyat: (Rhymes with “squat.”) This compliment stands for “Girl your a** thicc.” 
  • Thicc: (Sometimes pronounced "Tick") Used to refer to a woman with a full-figured body. Thicc is often used as a compliment, but may also be considered offensive.
  • Body count: The number of people someone has slept with.

General emojis and slang 

Here are some additional emojis and slang to be aware of: 

Emojis

🥴:  Used to express drunkenness, sexual arousal, or a grimace.

🙃:  Used to express annoyance.

🤡:  Used when someone is acting foolish (like a clown).

👻:  Indicates being “ghosted” (dumped or cut off from contact with no explanation).

🧢:  Symbolizes a lie, also known as a “cap.”

🥶: Often used in response to a snarky comment (as in, "That was cold").

💯: Used to give a stamp of approval.

🐍: Represents a snake or untrustworthy person.

☠️: Means “I’m dead,” as in they laughed so hard it killed them.

🔥: This symbol can be used to describe something very good or to describe when someone looks hot or sexy. It can also mean “lit,” as in intoxicated.

👀: Means one is feeling gossipy, as in “tell me more.”

Slang

  • AF: As F***; used for emphasis, as in “I’m tired AF.”
  • Beige: Dull, run-of-the-mill, or safe.
  • Bruh: Stands for “bro,” but can be used to address someone of any gender. 
  • Do it for the plot: Doing something challenging, risky, etc. for the memories or the story. (A new version of YOLO.)
  • Mid: "Low quality" or "average." 
  • Pick-me girl or pick-me energy: An insult meaning someone who’s a try-hard, loud and obnoxious, attention seeking, etc.
  • Sus: Short for “suspicious.”
  • Vanilla girl: An aspirational lifestyle representing the intersection of comfort and luxury. Vanilla girls lean toward minimalistic, often wearing shades of white and cream. 
  • W in the chat: Used to hype someone up. 

Monitoring your child’s texts

Now that you know what to look for, make sure you’re on top of monitoring your child’s device. Regularly sit down and look at their messages with them. Consider signing up for a child safety app like BrightCanary, which even shows you deleted messages. Set clear expectations for texting behavior and to put it in writing with a digital device contract

In short

Kid’s texts can be filled with hard-to-decipher slang and secret codes. But with open communication, monitoring, and staying up on trends, you can spot trouble in your child’s texts so you can address the issue together.

Mother looking at child on phone

While it’s responsible to monitor your child’s text messages, that doesn’t mean anything goes. It’s crucial to go about it in a way that’s respectful, thoughtful, and effective. Here are some of the top mistakes parents make when monitoring their child’s texts so you can avoid making them yourself. 

1. Spying

Going behind your child’s back to monitor their messages is almost guaranteed to backfire when they inevitably find out. Trust is a two-way street — opt for being open with your child about your monitoring, and they’ll be more likely to return the effort by being honest with you about their behavior. 

2. Expecting the worst

If you view monitoring your child’s texts as a way to catch them misbehaving, you set yourself up as an adversary, rather than an advocate. They’re likely to resent your actions and may go out of their way to evade your monitoring efforts. 

Instead, approach monitoring as a partnership. You should have a mutual goal of keeping them safe and helping them if they make a mistake

3. Calling out every little thing

I just learned the term “beige flag,” and I kind of love it. It’s a dating culture term meaning behavior that may be odd or strange, but that doesn’t rise to the level of concern. I think “beige flags” can also apply to parenting. 

When monitoring kids, parents need to decide what constitutes “red flag” behavior and what is merely notable-but-harmless beige behavior. 

For example, maybe your child is dropping f-bombs all over their text threads, but the actual content of what they’re saying (and their accompanying behavior) is fine. That’s a beige flag. Are they actively texting about drugs and alcohol? Red flag — time to step in. 

4. Not setting clear expectations 

If your kid doesn’t know what’s expected of them when they’re texting, they may feel blindsided when you call them out for something they didn’t realize was a problem. Be clear about how you expect them to behave when texting and put it in writing with a digital device contract

5. Having a false sense of security 

Monitoring your child’s texts is not a replacement for open communication. You still need to have the tough conversations with them about the risks that come with texting and help teach them how to be a responsible texter

You also need to remember that even the best monitoring efforts won’t catch everything. It’s still important to keep up on your child’s life the old fashioned way — by talking with them. 

6. Not respecting their privacy

Suppose that you learn your child has a new significant other, but they haven’t shared the news with you yet. You’ll probably want to run and ask them about the person — and why they didn’t tell you. DON’T do it. 

As difficult as it may be, you need to respect the fact that your child deserves to keep some things private. The same goes for not deliberately digging around on their phone to find out the gossip about their life. Focus your monitoring on issues of safety. The rest is only your business if your child wants it to be. 

7. Reading. Every. Single. Message.

It’s so tempting to read every message! It’s right there — why not? Well, for one thing, if your child is a typical teen texter, you’ll drive yourself absolutely batty trying to keep up: the average teen receives at least 237 texts per day, according to Common Sense Media. 

Reading every single text may also contribute to your child feeling like you’re spying on them. As your child grows older and more mature, you’ll want to loosen the reins, and reading every message only adds to your mental load. 

A monitoring app like BrightCanary gives you your time back. You can simply browse the “concerning” tab or wait until the app alerts you about something your child receives. The app even monitors deleted texts, so you don't have to worry about missing something big.

8. Jumping to conclusions

If you find something concerning, the first step is to (calmly) ask your child about it. Find out the full story from them, assuming the best until you find out otherwise. Ask your child what happened, using open-ended questions like, “Why did you send this?” or “Have you been sent something like this before, or is this the first time?” Remind them that your job is to keep them safe, and you want to work through this together. 

9. Not giving kids room to make (and learn from) their mistakes 

You can’t protect your child from everything. Nor should you try. There’s value in making mistakes, especially when your child is still young and has you to help support them through the aftermath. Address the big stuff that you find on their texts, but also look for places where you can give them room to fail. That’s where the growth will happen. 

The bottom line

Monitoring your child’s texts is a great way to help them stay safe online. But when parents aren’t honest about their monitoring, jump to conclusions, or go overboard in their efforts, it can have negative consequences. 

girl checking phone in car

To monitor or not to monitor: that is the eternal question of parenting in the digital age. As your child embarks on their social media life (or even if they’re already deep in it), it’s worth weighing the pros and cons of parents monitoring social media access for kids. Here’s how you can formulate a plan to keep them safe online and decide how much you want to supervise their online activities.

What is social media monitoring? 

Social media monitoring is anything you do to supervise your child’s activity on social networks, such as Instagram and TikTok. Monitoring efforts can take several forms, including following your child on social media, regular tech check-ins, parental controls, and using a monitoring service. The most effective approach combines several monitoring methods based on what works best for your family. 

Pros of social media monitoring

Experts broadly recommend parents take an active role in their children’s social media use, with the American Psychological Association (APA) advising that parents monitor social media accounts for kids under 15.

Here are some of the benefits of monitoring your child’s social media: 

Helps keep your child safe

Social media brings with it a whole host of risks for kids, including predators, cyberbullying, scams, anxiety, and exposure to dangerous trends. Monitoring your child’s social media activity means you’ll be more likely to spot red flags so you can address the issue head-on. 

Encourages active conversations about internet safety and responsibility

One of the jobs of modern parenting is teaching our children how to use social media and the internet safely and responsibly. Monitoring your child’s social media creates natural opportunities for learning and guidance. 

Keeps you informed about your child’s interests and influences

Who your children follow and how they engage with others on social media is an important window into their lives. Monitoring their accounts lets you keep up on their interests and influences, including harmful ones.

A way to monitor their mental health

Teens are notoriously private. As parents, it can feel like they’ve closed themselves off from us completely. While there’s no substitute for talking with your child, paying attention to what they post, share, and like on social media provides valuable insight into the state of their mental health so you can step in if needed. 

Cons of social media monitoring

While the data is clear that monitoring children’s social media is a net positive, it’s worth being aware of the possible downsides so you can get ahead of them. 

Here are some of the potential drawbacks of monitoring your child’s social media: 

May make your child feel like they don’t have privacy

Especially as they get older, a sense of privacy and independence is important for children’s development. However, this must be balanced by a need for safety. 

The good news is, you can accomplish both. One key to this is being clear with your child that your goal is to keep them safe, not to get all up in their business unnecessarily. 

BrightCanary uses AI to scan your child’s social media and alerts you to any red flags. It’s a great way to give them a measure of freedom because you can still keep an eye out for any concerns without combing over every single word they write online. 

Your child can sidestep monitoring tools, settings, and rules

It’s true that your child might try to hide some online activity from you. But the answer isn’t “ignore the problem” or “do nothing.” Any effort you make to monitor your child’s activity online, even if they are thwarted, is better than nothing. 

The key is to build in additional measures beyond simple monitoring. Make it clear that allowing you to monitor their accounts is a condition for using their device. Put it in writing with a digital device contract. Include clear consequences in the contract that kick in if you discover they’ve been sabotaging your efforts. 

Takeaway

While there are some potential cons to monitoring your child’s social media, the pros far outweigh any downsides. Experts suggest monitoring children’s social media accounts until at least the age of 15. Whether you have regular phone checks, use parental control settings, or use a child safety app like BrightCanary, what matters is that you’re taking an active role in keeping your child safe on social media.

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.

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