Setting Boundaries: How to Create a Family Texting Contract

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. 

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