Encouraging Healthy Screen Use

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As a parent, it isn’t always easy to encourage healthy screen use among our children. We may feel overwhelmed, powerless, and not know what to do. Here are some steps that might help you.

Knowing About New Technologies

It can also be useful to stay in the know about new technologies, the websites teens visit, and current social networks. Staying informed and showing interest in technology gives parents the opportunity to have relevant conversations about it with their children, to ask good questions about online behaviour, and will encourage being open about it. For example, and without being too invasive, parents can ask their teens to show them their public Internet persona. Even if parents should allow teens to have their own secret spaces, parents can mention that their kids should feel comfortable showing them the information or images they make public.


Encouraging Responsible Online Behaviour

It is essential to help teenagers choose content that’s suited to their development and to recognize problematic content. Preventing cyberbullying also means teaching your teen about responsibly using the Internet and information technologies. You can encourage your teen to think about the permanence of information published on the Internet. Parents can also explain to their teens that what we do in the virtual world can have very tangible effects in real life. For example, you can tell them that cyberbullying is punishable by law. Authorities have means to track where electronic communications come from and can find out who is responsible for cyberbullying.


Parents can start discussions with their teens about how important it is to protect personal information (passwords, contact information, access codes, etc.). Once a teen opens a message or social media account, parents can ask them to carefully select their friends and contacts, to regularly check the security settings for their different accounts, and to ensure that they properly log out of their accounts when using public or shared computers.


Finally, you can educate your teen to develop their own critical thinking to tell what’s fake and what’s real online.


Watching for Signs of Worrying or Problematic Use

  • Your teen complains about being bored or sad if they don’t have access to technology.
  • Your teen shows resistant behaviour if you set certain limits on their screen usage.
  • Screen usage has negative effects on sleep, school, or personal interactions.
  • Screen time negatively affects offline play, physical activities, and in-person socialization.
  • They show negative emotions after interacting or playing online. 


However, some of these signs can appear without them necessarily being problematic. You have to keep in mind several things, including your child’s personality and the way they behave in other aspects of their lives.


Setting Your Own Rules About Technology Use

Parents can use various strategies to manage screen time at home. It’s important to choose ones that are in line with your values and principles, as well as with other family rules. For example, some parents choose to do the following:


  • Set up the computer in a public area of the home (family room, living room, kitchen, etc.).
  • If their teen has access to a laptop or a smartphone, parents can limit their screen time in their room or forbid it entirely, depending on their wishes. By doing this, parents can ask their children about what they’re doing and can see whether they feel uncomfortable when they’re browsing the Internet. Basically, this allows parents to provide a kind of oversight.
  • Prevent access to social networks or to certain applications before a given age.
  • Demand that daily activities (personal interaction, sleep, and physical activities) take priority over screen use.
  • Some parents choose to use parental control software, although it isn’t completely fail-safe. This kind of program can help block access to certain sites and can help control time spent online.
  • Go over privacy and control settings for browsers, applications, and smartphones.
  • Not limit their teen’s screen time, but encourage regularly talking about what they’re doing, what they’re looking at online, etc.
  • Design a family media plan, go over it regularly, and adjust it to include limits on time and content for each family member.
  • Make sure to stick around and participate when teens use screens. If possible, also watch content with them and talk about it.
  • Discourage using several media platforms at once (several screens at the same time), especially when they need to be doing homework.
  • Get passwords and usernames for accounts on their devices and on social media in order to protect their online safety, as well as monitor their profiles and online activity if there are any concerns.
  • Encourage daily times without screens for the entire family, especially during family meals and when socializing.
  • Remind teens not to use screens at least an hour before going to bed to encourage good sleeping habits.
  • Prioritize screen activities that are educational, active, or social, rather than those that are passive or asocial. 


Finally, you can also come to an understanding with your teen on rules about computer and Internet usage. This agreement could even be signed by every family member and could show a kind of commitment to behaving in an ethical way online.


Source: Canadian Paediatric Society, Digital Health Task Force, Ottawa (Ontario)

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