How to Design a Family Digital Citizenship Contract

We raise our kids to be polite and respectful in person, so why wouldn’t we stress those same values in the online environment? A digital citizenship contract can help you spell out your expectations of appropriate online behavior and send a clear message about how seriously you take your child’s safety and online reputation.

Involve your kids in the process of outlining the contract to start a family dialogue about issues that can come up. Here’s a checklist of points to cover in your contract:

Treat others with dignity and respect. In other words, treat people the same way you wish to be treated, just like in person. Unacceptable behavior includes:
• Posting or texting cruel remarks
• Gossiping
• Bullying
• Using profanity
• Impersonating others

Think before your post. “Teenagers are all about instant gratification. They aren’t necessarily thinking, ‘Well, if I do this, how is this going to affect the other person? How’s this going to affect my life in the future?’” says Sarah Manriquez, a licensed clinical social worker.

Remind your kids to ask themselves questions like:
• Would I want Mom or Dad to see this?
• How would I feel about Grandma seeing this?
• Would I be embarrassed if everyone in school saw it?

Show empathy. Explain that when they forward or share photos, texts, or videos that are harmful to a peer, they inadvertently condone cyberbullying. Also, steer clear of mean-spirited chat rooms where anonymous members dish up snarky, cruel comments for entertainment.

Ask permission. Before logging into someone’s personal device, ask first, and then log back off of the device when finished. Before downloading an app, tell your child that they need to discuss it with you first.

Personal accountability matters. Errors of judgment happen and kids are still learning. Immediately address the situation together, whether they need to craft an apology or remove a comment or photo.

Don’t talk to strangers. Some free texting and gaming apps permit members to connect with other members even if they aren’t “friends.” Emphasize that exchanging text messages with someone they don’t know is the same as talking with a stranger. Often kids don’t view texting and talking in the same light.

Guard personal information. Avoid posting personal information in response from unknown individuals in a chat room or a public forum like:
• Email address (don’t use your email as a username)
• Home address
• Social security number
• School name
• Birthday with year
• Photos with geotags (switch off the camera’s location tag under privacy settings)

Assume everything posted is public. Texts, images, and posts can be saved and shared. Take the latest news, TV shows, and other media for examples that can lead to conversation and empathy-building opportunities. Kids are generally more open to discussing mistakes made by people outside of their immediate circle of friends.

Ignore attacks. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, one in three students has experienced cyberbullying. Tell your kids to let you or another trusted adult know if someone bullies them. Reacting or retaliating generally adds fuel to the fire.

If the bullying continues, your child can politely ask the person to stop, report the behavior to the content provider, or block the individual. Preserve the evidence and contact law enforcement if your child feels scared or threatened.

Check out, a site geared for kids featuring scenarios and text responses to help kids manage cyberbullying, dating violence, and awkward peer situations like password requests and gossip.

Establish boundaries. Declare certain times of the day, the car, or areas of the house as no-phone or no-device zones. At the end of the day, power down and store electronic devices in a central location of your home.

Disconnecting periodically allows for more opportunities to connect as a family, engage in creative pursuits, get adequate sleep, and complete homework and chores. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 72 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 17 have electronic devices in their rooms. Blame the blue light or incoming message alerts, but kids sleep less if electronic devices are left on, losing up to one hour of sleep a night!

Stress that privacy is earned. Because you are ultimately responsible for your child’s behavior whether online or off, have access to all passwords, check their phones, and visit the apps and social media networks they frequent regularly. Explain this to them beforehand so they aren’t surprised.

Pledge not to text and drive. Finally, if your child is of driving age, include a pledge on your contract that states a promise that they will not text and drive. Consider watching the 30-minute documentary by Werner Herzog, “From One Second to the Next” on YouTube with your child.

Clearly state consequences. Consequences could include loss of devices, screen time (except for required school work), and driving privileges.

Sign here. After your child signs the commitment, hang it up near your computer or on your refrigerator as family reminder. Review and adjust as needed.

For more ideas about creating a family digital citizenship contract or additional resources, visit: