Two teenage boys look at their mobile phones

7 tips for helping your kids navigate digital life

Fast-changing technology and the ways to manage its impact are of great concern for parents. But helping your children develop their skills is a more constructive approach than strict rules and outright bans, says Jocelyn Brewer Assoc MAPS.

Be a positive digital mentor

Parents are important role models for children – and this extends to screen and smartphone use. Be mindful of your own digital habits, to ensure you set a valuable example of safe and savvy digital citizenry.

Talk and talk again

Encourage conversations about the online activities in which all family members engage, so that you can positively influence online behaviour. Bring curiosity rather than fear to these conversations. Talk about what you and they do, see and read online, how they feel about this activity, and how they respond to others.

Play together

Using technology together – by viewing content or playing games – is a good way to prompt meaningful conversations about device use, online activities and interactions. This will help young people make sense of their experiences and build skills to circumvent online issues.

Don’t sweat the screentime

Parents can get caught up worrying about the amount of time their children spend online. Yet there is no agreement among experts as to what constitutes excessive time online. Instead, focus on:

  • the quality of the content (who made the app, game or wrote the blog and why?)
  • the context in which the technology is being used (when alone, in groups, or to pacify a child in a café or in a tantrum?
  • the cognitions (that is, the mental action) associated with the activity (is it constructive?)
  • the function of the activity (study, connection, info gathering, or other uses?)

Asking these more detailed questions about online activities will help parents make more informed decisions about whether particular technology use is serving their children’s wellbeing and development, and how to help their children manage this tech use.

It takes more than software

There are hundreds of software monitoring and tracking tools designed to help manage technology use, or block age-inappropriate content. But the thinking ability and social skills that help children manage their own online use which are much more important.

Build their skills

Focus on helping children and teens to develop their own capacity to problem solve, act effectively and stay safe online.

Don’t ban, plan

Involve your children in decisions about what are meaningful restrictions on the use of devices, based on what is fair and healthy.

Effective technology contracts involve consistency, protecting time offline for exercise, socialising and other activities. Avoid using time online as a currency and create rewards and consequences that suit your particular family.

Jocelyn Brewer is a registered psychologist based in Sydney, Australia. She works both in NSW public schools (across K -12) and in private practice. She consults, speaks and writes on issues relating to technology, psychology, and learning.