Teaching Technology Responsibility Starts Early

Structuring kids technology time takes work!

By Brittany Talley, MA, LPC, RPT

Parents often ask me about ways to teach responsible use of technology and limit screen time for their children. With technology often provided to children by the school (tablets or computers), it can be difficult to discern the difference between modern homework and a game. The following are some suggestions for teaching children to use technology responsibly. Note: when I say “technology” I’m mostly talking about smartphones, tablets, and computers, but could also include video games and television.

  1. Set Clear Expectations: Before giving your child any piece of technology, talk to them about how you expect them to use it.
    1. Use a technology contract. You can find sample contracts online, or you can create your own. Be sure to include school provided technology in your contract, because even though you may not pay directly for this technology, you will probably be financially responsible if something happens to that tablet or computer.
    2. Let your kids be involved in coming up with the rules. This way they feel invested and like they are a part of the decision-making.
    3. Include realistic consequences if expectations are not met, for example: If you use your phone in school/at the dinner table, I will take it for ____days/weeks. If you plan to use terms like inappropriate or excessive, be sure to define them for kids so that there’s no wiggle room.
    4. Let them know that you are to be given access to their technology upon request, and that you should always be aware of any passcodes.


  1. Stay Present: Monitor what your kids are doing on their phones, tablets, televisions or computers.
    1. You don’t have to install spyware or anything like that, but walk/stand behind them and watch what they are doing.
    2. Ask questions. If they are playing a game, ask them about it. Not only does this keep you “in the loop,” it lets your kids know that you are interested in what they are doing.
    3. Institute a “no closed doors” policy when it comes to technology. This means that if a kid wants to close their door for privacy, all technology must come out of their room. Some parents even have the phone charging station in their bedroom, so that phones are “checked-in” at a certain time each night, and “checked-out” every morning. This can keep kids off of phones until the wee hours of the morning when they need to be sleeping.


  1. Be consistent: Know in advance how your children will earn or lose technology time.
    1. If you are parenting with a partner, you both need to be on the same page about the consequences.
    2. Post those consequences somewhere in your home so that you can remember them and refer to them if your child is testing limits.
    3. If you set up a rule about phones at dinner, YOU need to respect that rule as well. Our children model our behavior. If they see us with our phones in front of our faces, or if we are consistently telling them, “just one minute while I finish this email,” we are showing them that this is an acceptable way to behave.
    4. Have a way for your kids to EARN technology time. Maybe they have to complete all of their chores, or each chore is worth so many minutes of technology time, and they can earn up to 60 minutes. Again, this is a great way to involve them. Let them decide how they will be rewarded.


  1. Use those Consequences! Remember those consequences I mentioned? Get ready to enforce them. Your children WILL break the technology rules. Especially if you are trying these out for the first time. Not because they are defiant, but because they are kids and they push limits, forget, or think they can get away with it.
    1. Set realistic consequences up from the beginning. This make them easier to enforce. Realistic consequences can include: taking the phone/tablet/computer away for a predetermined amount of time, having them earn back their technology by doing a certain amount of chores, or taking away minutes of technology time for each infraction (eg: for each late assignment, they lose 15 minutes of technology time).
    2. Stay calm, but remain firm. Remind your kids that everyone makes mistakes, and that it is ok, but the consequences must be enforced. This is often the hardest part for a lot of parents. Usually because they have come to view the technology as a convenience (your kid can call when they’re ready to be picked up from a friend’s house, or you have a find your phone app that lets you know where they are). It may feel like the consequences are more inconvenient for you as the parent than they are for your kid, but you still need to enforce them.


This is just a start, but hopefully these tips will help you teach your kids to have a healthy relationship with technology.


Technology Contracts:

Common Sense Media

Safe Kids


Family Online Safety Institute

The Smart Talk – Interactive