I Already Gave My Kid a Device. How Do I Go Back and Add Rules?

By Andrea Nelson
March 12, 2024
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. 

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