Responsible technology habits are one of the most helpful gifts a parent can give a child. As scientists learn more about children and screens, it has become clear that there are a number of problems surrounding prolonged device use, access to social media, and even the mental cost of streaming. Introducing children to technology at the right time and in the right manner can determine whether they grow up to have a healthy relationship with devices or whether they’re mentally hampered by the tools they use to do their jobs. Setting ground rules on how to act responsibly online helps children use the internet safely without parental supervision, while appropriately monitoring what they do online and on their phones can help make sure that they’re not exposed to anything inappropriate or damaging. If the whole family follows rules for technology, it can benefit everyone.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Screen Time
Here’s what researchers, scientists, and experts recommend for kids and screen time.
Screen Time Rule #1: Monitor Movies
- Avoid inappropriate movies, shows, games and the news, as they can all trigger nightmares for a child.
- Be mindful of your kid’s fears and the media they’re watching. Get familiar with what freaks them out, and avoid it.
- Watch the film before your kid does, or at least watch a trailer, or read an IMDB synopsis before your kid watches the media. Keep in mind a G-rating doesn’t mean every film is perfect for every child.
- Refrain from taking your kid to the movie theater at first. Movies at home can be paused or stopped if it gets too extreme for your kid.
Screen Time Rule #2: Introduce Computers Carefully
- Introducing children to technology has no real upside until after their sixth birthday when they possess the mental capacity to think a bit more abstractly.
- Before the age of six, parents should be much more focused on socialization, confidence, self-control, and all the other good traits no one associates with browsing online.
- There needs to be some type of a balance between interacting with computers and technology and getting out with friends and playing.
- Developing good tech habits means limiting access until around Kindergarten. The best way to start is on the family desktop or laptop, with a keyboard, trackpad, or mouse.
- Starting a child out on a traditional computer helps them understand concepts of hardware and software. It also provides a more robust method for parental monitoring and control via a variety of programs that can limit time spent on the computer and what a child can access.
- Parents should explore and play with their kid, side by side. The important part is helping a child understand the variety of uses a computer has, whether it be gathering information, drawing, painting, or writing.
Screen Time Rule #3: Teach Online Safety
- Talk to children about digital safety before they’re in their teens. If parents try to get in on digital safety when their kid has already hit their teens, the impact of their guidance will be blunted.
- Opportunities to talk about data safety often come when playing online games with kids. When they’re playing games, parents can find out from the child what they really like about online technology, and what it is that they’re maybe less sure about, and seize those moments.
- When a child is given a new device, be it a cell phone or child’s tablet, parents can take the time to learn about the new tech side by side with their kid, exploring apps and talking about setting limits.
- To be effective, the conversation about online safety needs to be ongoing and constantly evolving. Your child’s digital life is going to change drastically as they age. And your kids are going to need more information and guidance from you.
- Don’t encourage children to create online accounts by lying about their age. In the rush to establish a kid’s social media account, you’re telling kids it’s okay to lie while exposing them to the world. If Facebook’s minimum age is 13, tell them to wait until they’re 13.
- Peek into children’s online lives with simple and unobtrusive steps like checking internet history. Even a phone bill can offer insight.
- Try to persuade kids that their present day openness will be found and judged in the future by prospective schools, employers, and romantic partners.
Screen Time Rule #3: Set Rules
- Take away a device if a kid screws up by breaking a rule you’ve set, texting too much, or posting recklessly.
- Make it easy to remember whatever online agreement your family establishes by posting it in a place that’s easy to find.
- Talk to children about how rules online are the same rules that apply offline in how you treat somebody and engage.
- Established rules should be as much for the parents as they are for the kid. If devices are turned off at 9 p.m., everyone’s devices are turned off at 9 p.m.
- A kid with a history of doing well with clearly established rules will benefit from clear rules when it comes to online safety. But a child who does better with negotiation might benefit more from developing a contract about what those rules are.
- If you take your phone to bed and it’s the last thing you look at and the first thing you check when you wake up in the morning, that’s exactly what your kids will do. If you stash it in a closet at night, they’ll follow your lead.