Establishing Good Digital Habits for Kids

As adults, we are surrounded by technology almost every hour of the day. We rely on it to power our homes, entertain us, manage our calendars, and help us stay connected to our personal and professional contacts. But what about the technology habits of our children?

Thanks to the proliferation of connected devices, kids’ technology habits are much different than they were when most of us were children. Whereas technology has only become engrained in everyday life over the past few decades for adults, children are exposed to it practically from birth.

According to a 2019 Common Sense Media census, 53% of kids have their own smartphone by the time they turn 11, and those same children average just under five hours of screen time per day.

It’s important to teach children at a young age about online responsibility and how to establish healthy relationships with technology. Since children take cues from their parents and caregivers, the biggest step in helping children use technology wisely is to model good habits and behaviors ourselves.

Technology shouldn’t interfere or detract from day-to-day life for children or adults. By having conversations early and establishing rules and parental controls when kids are young, you’ll help prevent bad habits from forming and misuse of technology by your kids as they get older.

Here are a few best practices to establish healthy technology habits early.

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Set Tech-Free Zones and Mandatory Downtime

Teach your children that screen time is a privilege, meant to be used responsibly and only at appropriate times. Establish boundaries early on about when devices can be used and when they can’t. Create a no-technology rule for mealtimes and other activities where the focus should be on interpersonal experiences and building relationships, friendships and social skills.

Research has shown that the use of smartphones and other devices can also interfere with sleep habits and the quality of rest. Turn off your child’s device and take it away at least thirty minutes before bedtime.

Setting limits on how and when technology is allowed to be used will help foster social skills and protect your child’s rest and healthy development. Boundaries offer a certain kind of freedom for children by creating a comfortable routine and clearly stating what is expected. Protecting your child’s digital wellbeing isn’t restrictive; it’s one of the greatest kindnesses you can show them.

Find the Proper Balance

It’s critical to set age-appropriate parental controls even before your child uses a device for the first time. As children have access to technology at earlier ages, manufacturers have recognized the need to help parents monitor how kids are using devices.

Apple, for example, offers features like Screen Time, to set limits on how much time children are allowed to spend online and on which websites and apps. Other features like "Downtime," help enforce screen-free mealtimes and bedtimes.

We’ve put together a guide that explains the latest parental controls for your Apple or Android devices. Know the features that are available to you and how to use them to protect your children.

As you decide what parental controls and restrictions best fit your household, find a healthy balance between letting your children enjoy technology for its educational and entertainment value, and teaching them moderation.

Most kids want what feels “forbidden,” so being overly restrictive or instilling fears about the Internet may backfire and assist in creating the poor digital habits you’re trying to avoid in the first place.

Teach Good Online Behavior

You may have already had discussions about bullying with your child. It’s not just an issue that is limited to the playground or physical spaces, though. Cyberbullying has become a concern for children (and adults) of all ages. In fact, 15% of children report being the victim of at least one cyberbullying incident.

Talk to your children about positive digital interactions. Ask them if they’ve ever felt bullied online. By encouraging them to come to you with questions or doubts, they’ll be more likely to open up if they are bullied, and to inform you if they see someone else being mistreated online.

In addition to setting parental controls, talk to your children about making good choices and being careful about what personal information they post. Caution them about visiting unfamiliar websites or downloading unfamiliar apps and encourage them to ask you before they do download something they aren’t sure about.

Do Your Own Research

You know your child better than anyone. Do your own research about the best devices and content platforms for your family and know what parental controls and monitoring tools are available based on the technology guidelines you’ve set for your home.

Some devices offer very little control over content and activity, while others have a wide range of parental controls for hardware, software, and content. Consider your child’s age, maturity level, and experience with technology before choosing a device for them and giving them access to online content.

Lead by Example

As intuitive as modern devices are (especially for children), they still require learned behaviors to operate and integrate into our lives. To ensure that technology is an aid to our children and not a hindrance, we must teach them how to use devices responsibly and as an enhancement to entertainment and productivity.

Introduce technology to your children slowly. And even before they get their first device, model good digital habits to them and explain why and how you use your devices the way you do. Children imitate what they see. Practice what you preach to your children and create tech-free zones and downtime for yourself. Make sure the content you post is positive and appropriate.

To ensure that technology is an aid to our children and not a hindrance, we must teach them how to use devices responsibly and as an enhancement to entertainment and productivity. In doing so, you’ll set them up for a lifetime of healthy online habits.