Family Media Agreement by Common Sense Media

As kids become active on social media, setting expectations upfront about respectful media use can help deter future problems. My kids and I wrote a family media agreement before they received their first phones. For example, one of our primary household media rules is to have all devices turned off overnight to ensure a smooth and restful bedtime. That rule is still effective.

Revisit family media agreements because kids and technology are often changing!

But revisiting media agreements on a regular basis is probably wise as kids evolve through technology and peer groups. So when my daughter’s school sent out a link to Common Sense Media’s Family Media Agreement, I took notice. The agreement was easy to read, customizable, age-appropriate, and respectful to both kids and parents.

In other words, I liked it so much I wrote the team at Common Sense Media to request permission to share it here on the blog. Let’s take a look!

family media agreement


Elementary, middle and high School

Scrolling through the pages, you will see how the contract covers a wide age range: elementary school through high school. Whether your kids are young or old, media has an important impact on their daily lives. It’s never too early to start thinking thoughtfully about how families use technology.

Stay balanced

I especially like Common Sense Media’s point about staying balanced:

I will be mindful of how much time I spend in front of screens, and I will continue to enjoy the other activities – and people – in my life.

Have a conversation

Page four of the agreement has some excellent conversation topics to cover as a family. How long should media be used each day? What happens if a device gets lost or stolen? What does it mean to be respectful online?

Make your own

The last page of the agreement has fields to fill out based on the conversation above. I like how Common Sense Media  realizes that all families may have different needs, and allows enough space for kids and parents to come to their own sense of understanding.

If you like it, please share!


Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

10 Discussion Questions for Kids Who Play Pokémon GO

Commentary about Pokémon GO has turned into a national conversation, and opinions about real life gaming have been prolific on tech and parenting blogs. As a blogger myself, I’ve been reading about the advantages and disadvantages of being able to catch Pokémon with an iPhone. But one comment that really caught my attention simply stated the importance of discussion during the gaming experience, which is a helpful reminder worth sharing more broadly.

In the August 2016 issue of Children’s Technology Review, Warren Buckleitner published his thoughts on Pokémon GO:

“The game is loaded with local history facts, which are tied to earning the Pokéballs needed to catch Pokémon. But without discussion they’re only facts. Ask your child to share and discuss what they find.”

When reading Warren’s comment, it felt relevant not only for gaming, but also for parenting. Having discussions with my kids helped me progress through 13 years of parenting. A consistent back and forth exchange of ideas enabled me connect with them to reach agreement and understanding.

In that light, Pokémon GO can be a great source of conversation starters for families.

Here are 10 Pokémon GO discussion questions for kids

  1. Can you show me how to play Pokémon GO?
  2. What are Pokéstops?
  3. How do you catch a Pokémon?
  4. Who are your favorite Pokémon? Why? How many have you collected?
  5. Where have you found the most Pokémon? Why do you think they like that location?
  6. I keep hearing about Pokémon game terms, like gyms, eggs and leveling up. Can you explain those terms to me? What do they mean?
  7. Have you ever been in a Pokémon battle?
  8. What is your Trainer name? Why did you choose it?
  9. What are some ideas you have to stay safe and sensible while playing the game?
  10. When would be a good time to turn the game off? Or on?

Next time you find yourself in the virtual reality of Pokémon GO, remember to ask a child these Pokémon GO discussion questions to start a conversation about what they think!

For more information about Children’s Technology Review, visit or follow them on Twitter or Instagram at @childtech. Don’t miss CTREX, their massive online database of over 12,000 academic reviews of children’s interactive media products. CTREX is an ideal search tool for teachers, librarians and parents who are constructing their digital learning initiatives for the new school year.

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit Flickr

How Library Tech Helps Boost Summer Reading

Welcome to long summer days and relaxing summer nights. Kids are decompressing from the school year and easing into a new, low key routine. Summer reading is a fulfilling and mellow pastime for the whole family, and having plenty of books around is key to keeping it going. I’d love to share how we use technology to boost our access to new (and free!) reading materials all summer long.

Increase Book Selections with Summer Reading Lists

At the beginning of summer I print out reading lists for each daughter. My favorite grade-level lists are provided by the Houston Area Independent Schools Library Network (HAISLN). I like these lists because they are accessible online, and contain at least a paragraph to describe each book. The descriptions are important for helping kids preview and select books of choice.

Local libraries may also have their own reading lists. For example, the teen section for Redwood City Library provides reading recommendations for each area high school, which are all available online.

Find Incentives with Summer Reading Challenges

Search “summer reading challenge” in your web browser to find national challenges (like the one hosted by Scholastic) or regional challenges from libraries. For older readers, the GoodReads social network has an annual reading goal program that can be used during the summer months. With a quick search we found the summer reading challenge for our local library, and I’ll bet yours has one too!

Access Books Freely and Easily with the Library Hold System

Physically taking a book list to the library and trying to find all of the books by hand can take a lot of time. Sometimes, your branch may not have the book or it may be checked out. To streamline, we use our library’s online catalog to place a hold on each title. This way, we receive notifications once the books arrive to the hold shelf. Using the hold system is an awesome way to stock up on a bunch of recommended books, for free!

Would you rather access the library catalog on mobile? That should be easy enough. Just check if your local library has an app, or add the library’s webpage to your home screen.

Once our summer reading is underway, visiting the library (and the treasures waiting on the hold shelf) becomes a real treat. If you are motivated to keep kids current on keyboarding or digital literacy skills, have them log books onto a Google Doc. Let them build a table with title, author, and date completed. Before long, the book list will grow, and peaceful readers will fill the home.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Spirit-Fire]

The Number One Rule For My Daughter’s iPhone

We gave our oldest daughter an iPhone for her 11th birthday. Now she is 13. For two years we have followed a consistent rule for the phone, and I believe this rule has helped our family adapt to technology in a balanced way.

The Rule Is Simple

The number one rule for my daughter’s iPhone is that every single night the phone is powered off and stored in the dining room drawer. Powering off a phone and storing it in a common area overnight does not sound revolutionary. The rule does not contain parental controls or overbearing stipulations. The rule is simple, and maybe that is part of its effectiveness.

The Rule Involves The Whole Family

The rule does not single out my daughter as the only one responsible for implementing the rule. Life gets busy and it’s easy to forget details like putting a phone in a drawer. Part of the evening for everyone (Mom, Dad, Daughter, Sister) is to make sure devices are powered off and in their place.

If one person forgets, another remembers, and asks out loud if the phone is put away. Asking out loud reminds and reinforces the importance of the rule. It becomes everyone’s responsibility to put technology to bed.

The Rule Is Consistent And Habitual

Because the rule occurs every night, the practice gains consistency over time and turns into a regular routine. This habit is woven into a rhythm of family life. For our family it now feels natural to power off and put away a phone.

Not all families experience this type of consistency. Some kids spend different nights of the week in different locations. In this case, it would be up to the caregivers to standardize the routine and expectations, regardless of whereabouts.

The Rule Was Stated Before The iPhone Became Available

I kicked off our daughter’s iPhone gift with a letter about appropriate usage that we both agreed upon. This agreement eliminated battles over personal devices from the beginning because expectations were understood upfront.

But letters and contracts may not be the most intuitive tool for families. For example, if you ask me right now, I can’t recall the specifics of our agreement except for the one rule about putting the phone in the drawer at night. Maybe for us, the most valuable part of the agreement was to form that rule. The act of stating ideas in advance can help promote good habits before bad ones get in the way.

The Rule Supports A Bedtime Routine

Bedtime routines are traditionally associated with raising young children. But as digital media plays an increasingly central role in daily life, bedtime routines can be helpful at any age. It can take a lot of willpower to create tech-free zones with devices in arm’s reach. The nightly ritual of powering off and creating physical separation provides a buffer to foster distraction-free sleep.

The Rule Employs Trust

Let’s say the phone is in the drawer at bedtime, but a mouse sneaks out to get the phone in the middle of the night. Does that make the rule a total dud? Sneaky mice are a possibility in any household. In our home, I’m a light sleeper, and I hear it when kids wake up. I would recommend choosing a drawer that is closer to the parents’ bedroom to increase the likelihood of hearing any mice!

While it’s technically possible that every night for the past two years my daughter has woken up to sneak a peek at the phone, it’s more likely that she has appreciated her sleep. I’m making a choice to trust her, and right now that feels like the right choice.

The Rule Helps The Morning Routine

In the era of instant gratification, have you noticed that powering up a phone takes awhile? I love this tendency about electronics because it makes powering off even more effective. The instantaneous rush of phone-checking can be deterred by the inconvenience of grabbing the phone and waiting for it to power up. All ready for school? OK, now grab your phone, or better yet, forget it completely until later in the afternoon.

The Rule Is Contagious

To have any credibility with my family I’m supposed to be modeling this rule myself. I have seen the rule in action with my daughter, and the healthy overall tone it’s setting for media use. On nights when I put my phone to bed early, I also sleep better and feel more balanced.

Our household rule may have been created for my daughter, but it benefits me as well. It’s pretty interesting to hear myself admit: “I want to be more like her.”

As a parent, I’m always learning. I am interested to hear about your household rules for media management. What works, what doesn’t? 

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Adam Fagen]

Screenagers Movie Review

Screenagers Movie About Teens Behind Screens


I recently saw the movie Screenagers – Growing Up In The Digital Age. This documentary analyzes the behavior of teens behind screens, specifically addressing addiction, attention span, and the appeal of social networks. As a parent, I found value in the movie’s ability to show how extreme situations can sometimes happen in regular families. By shining a spotlight on screentime addiction, viewers gain a frame of reference for evaluating their own habits.

Three Real Life Situations That Catch Your Attention

There are three storylines in Screenagers that caught my attention most. One was about a college freshman who avoided academic pressure by constantly playing video games, eventually dropping out of college. Another was about young teenagers who are obsessed with posting selfies and generating likes, to the point where they discuss fake likes. Then there was a grandmother whose efforts to intervene in her grandson’s gaming resulted in angst and friction for both of them.

These extremes all generated from well intentioned families who got caught in out of control situations. By sharing these stories, other parents have context to gauge where their own families fall in the range of extremities.

Benefits of After School Activities

I also noticed when the movie talked about after school activities as a counterbalance to screen time. As a parent I think it’s a constant effort to get the right balance between downtime and scheduled activities. Hearing about the benefits of scheduled activities was somewhat refreshing after noticing so much backlash over the years about over scheduled kids. 

Find a Screening Near You

To view a trailer or find a screening of Screenagers, visit the website. Whether you have teenagers or just toddlers, understanding the pros and cons of digital media and its progression in our daily lives can be increasingly helpful to parents.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Garry Knight]

Artful Photography From Young Teens On Instagram

At this stage of family life I’m able to observe young teens as they start to join Instagram. My initial concerns about bullying or addiction have been appeased by their thoughtfully considered creative expression through photography. I realize that managing technology in the home is going to be a constant effort, but I’m also grateful that our first foray into social media has been a positive one.

To illustrate my point, I received permission to share these images from a special young teen in my Instagram network. As we become surrounded by messages about technology overriding our lives, I hope this post can provide some confidence that when used responsibly, digital tools can help us explore the world in innovative ways, bridging perspectives across generations.  

photography photography photography photography photography

These photographs show me someone who notices a range of life’s details from tiny to grand. As a kid, I don’t think I ever noticed the view my father always talked about. But with tools in hand, young teens now have an opportunity to participate and play in that view. And therefore the view can become much more fun – for everyone.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit [Flickr | Axel Naud]

Parenting Books For Managing Tech In The Home

The non-fiction reading bug bit me. Over the past month I’ve been curious about the latest parenting books for managing technology in the home. What can I learn from leading educators, psychologists and other parents about best practices for healthy media use? Am I in alignment with their thinking as I set media rules for our family? The publications did not disappoint, and my notes in the margins showed I always have something to learn. Here are the key takeaways I gained about media use from these authors:

Do kids still care about what their parents think?


parenting books - The collapse of parenting

The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax, MD, PhD: Author Leonard Sax drives home the point that as peers gain more communication channels with other peers, peer validation becomes more important to kids than parental validation. In other words, kids care more about what other kids think than what parents think. This cultural shift may lead to a culture of disrespect, and it’s more important than ever to keep family members connected and relevant to each other. Having regular days of doing chores together, spending time together, and thinking of each other before ourselves can keep the “me” generation in check and encourage long lasting family ties.

What if families learned alongside one another?

parenting books - Guiding kids in a digital worldNaked Parenting: Guiding Kids in a Digital World by Leah DeCesare: Author Leah DeCesare’s balanced and realistic perspective was a pleasure to read. She followed an outline of hot topics such as family communication, online privacy, digital citizenship and media planning. I appreciate that she holds humanity in the highest regard with her statement about undivided parental attention: “Giving kids our full attention sends a powerful message to them that we care.” She also advocates for digital literacy among all family members, encouraging us to learn alongside each other. Vigilance, honesty and respect should provide effective tools for navigating a modern world.

Increase our understanding by learning the facts

parenting books - media moms and digital dads

Media Moms & Digital Dads by Yalda T. Uhls, PhD – Author Yalda Uhls integrates social science research into key segments of the book to balance current perspectives with data. The result is helpful for giving our assumptions about media use more context, and potentially an alternative point of view. The chapters on social media are especially helpful as my girls continue through middle school. I learned about FOMO (fear of missing out) which can be amplified for teens over today’s social media networks. She also covers the rise of selfies and how they are becoming normalized in today’s culture. I will keep this in mind as the kids head out into the new media landscapes, and keep a close eye on their self esteem.

I’m glad all three of these books are in my library, and thank the authors for taking time to create educational materials for parents in a rapidly changing world.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Sam Greenhalgh]

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Books for Tech in Home

How We Manage Online Homework to Avoid Scope Creep

By seventh grade, 75% of my daughter’s daily homework moved online. Aside from a few math problems and group projects, most essays, quizzes and assignments are constructed and completed through Edmodo or Google Classroom. I noticed the difference about halfway through the year when less paper seemed to clutter the desk. Instead, the Chromebook and charging cord took center stage.

online homework

If you have a teen, it may come as no surprise that they don’t appreciate being micromanaged. My concern with computer-based homework are the inherent distractions present with multiple websites and constant classmate interactions. Those interactions take up time: time that can be better spent completing the actual homework assignment or hanging out with family after it’s done.

How could I encourage a focused approach to homework without being annoying? While it’s tough to solve the annoying part, we are making progress on managing computer-based homework so it does not overtake family life. Here is how:

Eat First

My kids eat before they start homework. An after school meal settles everyone in the household so they are relaxed and recharged for brainwork.

Analog Before Digital

We review the homework that needs to be done for the day, and they choose the discrete analog homework first. This way, online distractions are delayed by starting with paper-based homework.

Time Estimate

I ask for a time estimate on the total amount of homework before they begin. Do they have an hour or three hours of homework? Then we calculate what time they should be finished. Now, they are accountable for finishing on time.

Check In

Whatever the time estimate, I make a note to check in a couple of times to see if the end time needs to be adjusted. These check-ins can be bothersome if it disrupts their focus or stresses them out, so I try to keep check-ins to no more than once per hour.


I used to think a regular bedtime was especially important for toddlers and young children. Now I feel it’s even more important for teens in a modern world to take bedtime seriously. We have a consistent bedtime every night, and the goal is to keep homework from interfering with sleep.

By next year my girls will be older and no doubt we’ll need to adjust as technology changes. But for now, this plan is working so we’re sticking to it. If you have any experience to share, especially as kids get into high school, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit [Flickr]

How One Mother Ended The Battle Over Screen Time

This guest post is written by Carisa Kluver, founder of the popular website Digital Storytime, and writer at Digital Media Diet. Carisa combines her background in research, education, parenting and mobile apps to create a home-based solution for balancing media in family life. 

Do you have a media-obsessed child? It can be a kiddo who loves to play video games, watch YouTube or even movies. These kids often beg for tablet time, screen time or media (as we call it in our home). These kids also talk obsessively about their online experiences when asked about their day, their interests or sometimes any question at all.

My confession is that I’m parenting a child just like this, right now, in real time (IRL). I don’t have the luxury of studies and expert advice to guide me. But being a researcher, I looked into every solution that might not only bring balance to my child’s life today but more importantly, teach him how to manage this media himself as he grows older.

Over five years ago I started a website reviewing children’s digital books with my husband and son helping along the way. This family ‘business’ was a labor of love, but sometimes kept me busy for 12-18 hours a day. The fact that my young son could preview books, give his expert opinions as the target audiences while enjoying time together was a huge plus. The process also helped me hone my writing skills, bringing several opportunities to be published. I even helped design & implement a training for librarians about digital storytimes that has been used nationally in the U.S.

My son is nine, but his obsession with screens began before he could even talk. Initially, his father was building an app for preschoolers and our child became the best beta tester ever born. He helped with my app reviews. But he also watched his parents. But what were we modeling? A lot of screen time for sure, even if it was for ‘work’ purposes.

These work opportunities were transformative for me, personally, but what was I modeling with all this media obsession showing up in my young child? The experience gave me pause. I was a former social worker with lots of training in how to set up systems to ease family tension and reduce child misbehavior. Perhaps I should try my own medicine?

Among the best systems I recommended for families with parent-child power-struggles, were star-charts and positive reward systems. At school my child was exposed to systems where teachers give students behavioral points (bucks, dollars, etc.) to cash in for prizes, which gave me an inspiration. What if we set up a ‘buck’ system at home? It could teach balance for media and good habits for managing money in general.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 9.17.39 PM

This was the start of my search. First I wondered if I wanted the tracking system to include more than just screen time balance with other activities. Then I had to decide if I wanted to track our system with physical bucks to exchange or a digital alternative. And should my child get an allowance of media time, mirroring the recommendation for no more than two hours a day? These were big questions and I was literally guessing all along the way.

Ultimately I decided to make our system all-encompassing for chores, homework, reading, targeted educational apps and other positive behaviors we wanted to instill in our child. The rewards would also be broad, including trips to get ice cream, toys and other favorite activities, but the main focus would be on screen time. Our buck system includes a lot of interesting ‘prizes’ but by far the most frequently chosen reward is to have ‘media’ time. My child gets an allowance each week equal to 30 min. screen time a day with the option to earn more ‘bucks’ by doing homework, reading books and chores. This amounts to an average of screen time that is under 2 hours a day on average, the recommendation by the AAP (

Before implementing this system, we had daily power struggles over how much media our child consumed. He wanted unlimited amounts, creating a constant tension in our home. A year into this ‘buck’ experiment I can truly say we have peace in our home and a more mature child who plans his screen time around other healthy activities like playing outside, reading for pleasure, play dates with friends and more.

What does my child think of this system? I asked him to sum it up and he was rather articulate, saying “It’s more efficient to give me bucks and let me decide myself how to spend my time.” He added that “it also is more enjoyable to play my video games because I know I’ve earned them.”

As parents we see a huge change using this system, too. For me, the battles over screen time are essentially over. I still decide when it’s appropriate to ‘cash in’ bucks for media time, so sometimes I do still have to say no. Most of the time, however, the question isn’t for me but for my son’s wallet. Can he afford to spend his last few bucks or is he saving up for something? If media has been ‘out of balance’ I also have a great way to limit it by letting my child run out of bucks. He can earn more by reading, chores, homework or educational apps (right now we’re emphasizing multiplication and keyboarding skills) but even that has a ceiling. Screen time was never unlimited in our house, but now it’s beautifully self-limited in a natural equilibrium with other activities.

Ultimately I never worry anymore about too much screen time. Since implementing the system, my child is not only happier with his media time but also getting significantly less of it. I also don’t have to battle over media when I’m in a bad mood or possibly a good mood that can be taken advantage of easily by an only-child. Eliminating these parent-child struggles is one of the goals of a positive reward system that any social worker might help a family implement, and I can testify that it makes for a much more peaceful home environment!

You can follow Carisa on Twitter at @iPad_storytime.

Five Cell-Free Zones To Keep Family Life Centered

I’ve been happy with the balance we’ve found so far with kids, technology and family life. In analyzing our family’s habits, I noticed five daily routines that keep conversations flowing and cell phones in their place. Do you notice similar habits? Let’s drill down:

School pick ups

I like having my phone off or in my purse during school pick ups. When I’m focused solely on the kids after their long day at school, it’s easy for me to pick up on important details like mood and energy level. After school can be a critical time of day for my kids. How we wind down from the afternoon determines how well we boot up for the evening’s responsibilities.

Sporting events

I like watching my kids play, dance and sing — whatever they happen to be immersed in throughout the seasons. If they see me watching, I simply want them to see a parent who is fully engaged. If I use the phone to snap a photo or answer a text, I try to make sure any digital interaction is quick and not immersive, keeping my attention on the game and players. The details I soak up from watching are helpful for family conversation starters about who played what, and how the event progressed.

Car rides

Car rides to school or errands around town are opportunities to ask about life’s little details. How is the school project going? What are you planning to wear to the next school dance? What shall we do this weekend? If my kids are studying their phones instead of chilling out, they would have no time or interest in a conversation. Conversations can be key to keeping relationships on track. The more, the better — and car rides can be an awesome medium to keep them rolling.


This is old news because everywhere we turn we’re being told to have family dinner with no devices in sight. But the sentiment is overplayed for a reason. Shared meals are precious. With everyone in the family at the same table, common ground and lively conversations can overcome age divisions. Rings, dings, chimes are vibrations are interruptions that are best put aside until later.


Have you ever studied which nights you get the best sleep? Are they the nights you’ve burned the midnight oil in front of a screen? Or are they the nights you’ve gotten into PJs early with a book or a magazine to doze off peacefully? I’ll make a bet which situation works best for the ultimate zzzzzs.

That’s five? Oh boy. I have one more. Here is a bonus…

Bonus: Time with friends!

When friends get together, magic sometimes happens. Over the years we’ve hosted playdates involving all kinds of activities like dress-up, water balloons, and treasure hunts. These activities might have been overshadowed if phones got in the way. Sometimes I notice (even if a phone is just being used to play music) that it’s way too easy for a kid to take it and get consumed by something else. Playing together without distractions keeps everyone connected to each other and on the same page.

What side-benefits have you noticed from keeping cell phones out of the mainstream path? I’d love to hear your strategies, and add them to the list.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

 Photo credit Flickr [Lon Martin]