Helping Children Find Balance and Establish Healthy Digital Habits
There’s no question that we’re living in a digital world. While you might not have been born in the era of iPhones, today’s kids will never know a world without technology at their fingertips. It’s not uncommon to see toddlers with smartphones in their hands at the grocery store, or kids with tablets on the couch at home.
While there are plenty of benefits when it comes to technology, there are also some risks involved. As a parent or caregiver, it’s essential to be able to help children find the right balance and establish healthy digital habits. Tech devices aren’t going anywhere. They will only continue to advance and become more integrated into your children’s lives. Teaching them healthy digital habits now will help to prepare them for the future and establish a better relationship with technology.
So, what can you do to establish those habits and help your children see how technology can be good with boundaries in place?
Fostering Healthy Screen Habits
One of the biggest concerns parents often have with kids and technology is screen time and when to limit it. Whether it’s a tablet, phone, or computer, it might feel like your child has their nose in front of a screen more often than not. There are some benefits to screen time, especially if they’re using educational apps or shows, or connecting with friends or family members. But, some of the risks of too much screen time include:
Irregular sleep patterns;
Impaired academic performance;
Desensitization to violence;
There’s no ideal number when it comes to how much screen time is acceptable or appropriate. Rather than focusing on a specific time, focus on helping your child find a better balance. Start by modeling healthy screen habits yourself. If your child sees you constantly looking at your phone, they’re likely to do the same.
You can also limit screen time by setting a timer or establishing a curfew if your child likes to play on a tablet or phone before bed. There are different parental control software programs that allow you to put curfews in place that will turn off their digital devices at a certain time each night.
If your kids are older, you might want to consider guiding them through their technology use, rather than putting strict parental controls in place. By making your kids aware of things like deep fakes, inappropriate content, AI, and online privacy, you can encourage them to be safe online, rather than trying to control their usage. For teens, especially, having that kind of responsibility can mean a lot to them, and they’re likely to take it more seriously to show that they can handle technology on their own.
Starting the Tech Conversation
It’s up to you to decide when you think your children are old enough to use technology on their own. Start by addressing the security of the devices your child is using. Even if you have parental controls in place, your kids could fall victim to phishing scams or even cyberbullying.
After making sure that the security measures you want are in place, start a conversation with your child about your expectations and their safety. Emphasize that technology can be fun and a useful resource, but it does not come without risks. Make sure your children know how to identify suspicious behaviors or malfunctions. You can also offer them tips on how to keep their information private, including:
Not reusing passwords for different sites or apps;
Checking for compromised passwords;
Avoiding sharing personal information with anyone.
Educating your children about how to stay safe is a way to ensure they feel empowered when engaging with technology.
Encouraging Other Activities
There will always be time for screens, but it shouldn’t compromise your children’s mental or physical well-being. They might like to unwind with digital devices, and technology can help to reduce stress, but it’s just as important for them to find other outlets they can turn to.
For instance, spending more time outdoors is a great way to have screen-free time. Encourage outdoor learning by building makeshift ecosystems, playing “eye spy”, or taking a nature walk. Spending time outside is great for your child’s physical and mental health, and getting outdoors can foster a healthier balance if they spend a lot of time on digital devices.
Things like regular exercise, art, writing, playing music, or even cooking can all boost your child’s mental and physical health while allowing them to spend time away from the screen. Cater to their interests, and they’ll be more likely to stick with screen-free activities without complaining about being bored or needing technology to have fun.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to set rules and boundaries regarding your children’s digital habits. But, rather than focusing on limitations and cutting off their screen time, shift your strategy to help them strike a healthy balance that will stick with them into adulthood.