Setting Digital Boundaries

Kids on iPad

I think one of the more difficult things to manage with children and technology is how much screen time your child should have. Setting digital boundaries with your kids is extremely important, just as important as making sure your kids eat their fruits and vegetables every day.

Creating digital boundaries or guidelines for your kids is very personal and depends greatly on your children, their ages and your household environment. Experts do suggest that you put a limit on the amount of screen time your child has as too much can lead to such things like obesity. As well, studies have shown that when kids take their devices to bed with them they suffer from insomnia and other sleep problems.


I’ve found that whenever we set house rules or chores the best way to ensure success with my kids is to do the following:


  • Write out the rules and then sit down with your child and have them read the rules out loud
  • Make sure they understand the rules
  • Post the rules somewhere your child sees often
  • Be consistent and always follow through with the rules
As to what your guidelines are, those are up to you. Some parents I know don’t allow any screen time Monday-Thursday. In my house my kids are allowed to have 1 hour of screen time Monday-Friday and on the weekends and holidays they get 2 hours of screen time. Screen time in our house means basically anything with a screen – Wii, TV, iPad, computer, iPod or phone. Another hard and fast rule in our house is all screens get turned off an hour before bedtime, whether they have used up their hour or not.


As my kids get older I’m sure the rules will have to be re-evaluated but until then everyone seems happy with them.


Over the holidays I’m sure some of you saw the contract that a mom created for her son to go with his new phone. I thought it was very well done, with some great life lessons built into certain points of the contract. I’ll post her contract here as a good example of digital boundaries.

1. It is my phone.  I bought it.  I pay for it.  I am loaning it to you.  Aren’t I the greatest?

2.  I will always know the password.

3.   If it rings, answer it.  It is a phone.  Say hello, use your manners.  Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad”.  Not ever.

4.  Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30pm every school night & every weekend night at 9:00pm.  It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30am.  If you would not make a call to someone’s land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text.  Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.

5.  It does not go to school with you.  Have a conversation with the people you text in person.  It’s a life skill.  *Half days, field trips and after school activities will require special consideration.

6.  If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.  Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money.  It will happen, you should be prepared.

7.  Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.  Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others.  Be a good friend first or stay the hell out of the crossfire.

8.  Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.

9.  Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room.  Censor yourself.

10.  No porn.  Search the web for information you would openly share with me.  If you have a question about anything, ask a person – preferably me or your father.

11.  Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public.  Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being.  You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.

12.  Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts.  Don’t laugh.  Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence.  It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life.  It is always a bad idea.  Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you.  And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear – including a bad reputation.

13.  Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos.  There is no need to document everything.  Live your experiences.  They will be stored in your memory for eternity.

14.  Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision.  It is not alive or an extension of you.  Learn to live without it.  Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO – fear of missing out.

15.  Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff.  Your generation has access to music like never before in history.  Take advantage of that gift.  Expand your horizons.

16.  Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.

17.  Keep your eyes up.  See the world happening around you.  Stare out a window.  Listen to the birds.  Take a walk.  Talk to a stranger.  Wonder without googling.

18.  You will mess up.  I will take away your phone.  We will sit down and talk about it.  We will start over again.  You & I, we are always learning.  I am on your team.  We are in this together.”

Read the whole letter here.


What types of rules or guidelines do you have in your house around screen time?



  1. Overall, I love this list. There are a few things on there that I disagree with, including the “don’t take a zillion pictures or videos”. If I didn’t take zillions of pictures as a teenager, I don’t think that I would remember even a fraction of the things that happened to me. I did All The Things as a youngling — many, many extracurricular activities. I think that the most important piece on here would be the “don’t send or receive pictures of private parts”. So, so, so important. And so, so, so not talked about. (Usually.)

    Thanks for this, lovely!

    • I totally agree on the don’t take a zillion photos. I love taking photos and then months later I sit down and scroll through my phone photos and have a good laugh. My son went through a big phase of taking my phone and taking photo after phone of himself doing funny faces or taking photos of his foot or the couch or the carpet. I’m keeping every single one of them – just to remind me when he thought it was so cool to take a photo on my phone.

      I agree as well that the issues around kids who take pictures of their private parts are not talked about enough and the damage that can do. I do not look forward to having that discussion with my kids when they get older. ;)

  2. Hi there,
    I have been discussing similar issues on my site and on CBC/Parents. We too just firmed up the one hour screen time for School days and two hours on weekends and longer holidays can be negotiated. I told the older kids that I ok with TV as long as homework is done as my kids tend to enjoy more science and nature shows vs total garbage. But mostly just want to nudge them away from the screen….until summer anyway when they forget all the electronics and vanish outside.

    • Hi Kerry – thanks for the comment!

      Yes screen time is a big topic right now and rightly so. Thankfully my kids are pretty good about the hour rule, my daughter even uses her iPod to set the timer for an hour and when her timer goes off she shuts everything down. They have been getting better at planning their hour usage as well, shutting the Wii off after only 30 mins so that they can have 30 mins after dinner or something like that. I’m sure as they get older they won’t be as happy to put the devices down but hopefully I can instill some good habits for them.

  3. I sure wish we had set boundaries with ours when he was young. We would say “it gets turned off in 10 minutes” but it never happened. This is my nephew btw, not my own child and not raised soley by me. My mother was the other offender and so much a push-over and didn’t want to “upset” her grandchild. SOOOOO bad! I hated her decision on this and couldn’t make her understand the importance. We now have a 19 year old that uses the family computer for up to 18 hours some days, and you CAN NOT get him off to do anything you may like to do. He flatly refuses. We have created a monster. He does not have his own computer yet (while he is currently working on that atm) and the computer is centrally located because it belongs to everyone. The problem is he’s a gamer, and talks to his gaming friends out loud. VERY loudly. While you’re trying to do other things, such as have a conversation, watch tv without having to turn it up so loud it makes your ears ring. And if you ask him to tone it down a bit, he just gets furious and hates you for it. He is loud, obnoxious, and rude when he’s on the computer. I wish we had never started him on the SNES when he was young for hand/eye co-ordination. That was what we thought was okay. It was a bad start. If we had better boundaries, it might have been totally different.

    I agree with most of what the rules say, except for the taking pictures part, as well. I’m a big picture-taker myself, and I love having my kids’ lives documented. I don’t have many pictures of myself as a child, and I wish someone had taken the time to show me how I was as I was growing up. There are memories I have that I wish I could now have a photo of. The first camera I ever bought at age 19 was one of the best things I ever did. And now I have the photos to go with all the memories from that point on. I am happy that I have them. I passed that on to my kids, and they are responsible with it. They don’t go overboard. Maybe they’re just good that way, but I agree with Shannon when she laughs that her kids think a picture of their foot is a quality photograph and that’s something she can share with them when they get older. Thank goodness we have digital cameras now and that not all photos have to be printed out.

    Otherwise I think the article is stunning. We have a new generation on her way to the digital world. She is 4. And she has never been introduced to the computer.

    • Sorry to hear about your nephew Eileen. Your story is a good example of what can happen if boundaries are not set. I wish you luck with him and have fun watching your 4 year old discover the digital world! Thanks for your comments.

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