Technology is like any other tool: Whether it’s useful or dangerous depends entirely on how it’s used. When smartphones first became popular, researchers found a sharp increase in teens experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. Because kids’ brains aren’t fully developed, they’re at greater risk than adults for unhealthy tech use.
While it may be tempting to cloister your child, you can’t keep them away from tech forever. Instead of taking away your kid’s phone, the better solution is to teach them healthy habits with safe kids’ phones.
How? Use these tips to help your child develop a good relationship with technology:
1. Distinguish Useful From Wasteful Screen Time
Being able to call family and complete homework online makes life easier. The pandemic is a perfect illustration: If it weren’t for digital tools, children wouldn’t be able to continue their schooling or check-in with their relatives.
While the internet can be useful, it can also be distracting. Between gaming, shopping, and social media apps, it’s easy to spend hours mired in mindless entertainment.
Use examples to help your kid see the difference. After running through a few scenarios, ask them: Is watching Netflix all night a healthy use of technology? What about playing a video game for just an hour after dinner?
Every family will draw the line somewhere a little different. Decide together what you’re comfortable with.
2. Create Family-Wide Guidelines
Speaking of, it’s a good idea to establish tech guidelines for your entire family. Kids model what they see their parents doing, so you can’t exclude yourself.
Make sure family guidelines work for everyone. Perhaps you and your spouse have physical jobs. If your child is learning virtually, though, you shouldn’t set a blanket “no screens before 5 p.m.” rule.
What rules do make sense for everyone? Consider rules like putting down digital devices during dinner time and when family or friends are over. Set time limits for how long everyone can be on social media or gaming apps.
Along these lines, it’s also a good idea to discuss where phones should and shouldn’t be used. Perhaps classrooms and bedrooms are no-phone zones.
3. Say “No” to Nighttime Use
Several studies have shown the negative impact of using cell phones before bedtime. The blue light from devices decreases the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Using cell phones, tablets, and computers at night can lead to insomnia, which can cause depression and anxiety.
Ask them not to use technology after a certain time, like 9 p.m. For repeat violations, take your kid’s phone and other electronics away at least an hour before bedtime. If they need an evening routine, consider reading a book with them or listening to calming music together.
4. Only Use Phones in Cars for Emergencies
If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. Establishing healthy habits for your children starts with yourself. If you talk on the phone or, worse, text when driving, guess what your child is going to do when he or she gets behind the wheel?
Kids learn through observation and association. Send a clear message by avoiding all phone usage when in the car — even if you’re sitting in the backseat. Only in an emergency should you pull out a phone in the car.
5. Monitor Your Kid’s Digital Activity
You probably know where your children are during the day. But do you know what they’re doing on their phones?
Although you shouldn’t sneakily check their electronics every night, do keep communication lines open. What apps are they using? What are their favorite websites? Who are their online friends?
What if you suspect your child isn’t telling you the truth? Most devices come with parental control options. You can enable Family Safety settings, block certain applications, and monitor your child’s usage.
As a parent, you have the right to know what your children are doing online. Setting rules and introducing controls keeps you informed and your children safe.
6. Don’t Use Tech to Escape
Technology should never be used as an emotional pacifier. Handing your kid a tablet so they stop crying might keep them quiet, but it’s not a long-term solution. Children need to learn how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way — not by distracting themselves with Candy Crush.
Crutches eventually become addictions, and about half of teens report feeling addicted to social media. The reason isn’t that these teens suddenly woke up one day and decided to download Instagram — it’s because parents are allowing them to escape from the real world’s challenges through technology.
7. Provide Real-World Alternatives
8. Be a Teacher
You can set all the rules in the world around how your kids use tech, but at the end of the day, you can’t control everything they see and do. Instead, spend time educating your children on the positives and negatives of technology.
What should they do if they experience cyberbullying? What signs suggest someone they meet online might be a child predator? How can they protect their personal data? Help them help themselves use technology in safe, productive ways.
Becoming addicted to digital devices is shockingly easy. Avoiding mental health issues, staying safe, and being productive are all made easier with a healthy relationship with technology.
As their parent, nobody can show your kids the ropes like you. Get involved, be thoughtful, and make sure your own habits align with what you’re telling them. A tech-smart family starts with you.
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