Let’s face it, tech companies do not have the best interests of our kids and teens in mind. On top of that, laws to protect kids online cannot get through congress. This leaves it to parents and caregivers to help kids learn to stay safe and build healthy digital habits.
So where do families start? Guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics share the amount of screen time that is healthy for each stage of development. Families can also implement these five habits at home starting in early childhood, as they offer a framework to build healthy digital habits.
5 Ways to Foster Healthy Digital Habits in Kids
1. Model Healthy Tech Habits Yourself
Kids model their caregivers’ behaviors, so our tech habits matter. For example, if I’m texting and someone walks in the room and asks me a question, I put my phone down, look them in the eye, and respond. Prioritizing the people physically present builds connection and models this behavior for my family.
2. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep is fundamental to mental health and well-being, yet many kids and teens are sleep deprived. Keep phones and devices out of bedrooms to prioritize sleep.
3. Help Kids Understand the Dark Side of Tech
Social media, video games, and apps are for-profit companies with the key objective of making money. To be profitable, they need eyes on screens, including kids’ eyes. These companies also use persuasive design techniques to keep people scrolling and playing. Parents can help kids understand this side of tech with age-appropriate conversations. Watching films like The Social Dilemma and discussing news stories such as the Facebook/Instagram Files helps preteens and teens be informed consumers of technology.
4. Teach Digital Literacy & Digital Citizenship
Navigating the online world requires digital literacy and citizenship. Digital literacy is finding, evaluating, and communicating information on various digital platforms. Misinformation and fake stuff are everywhere online. For example, mental health advice is widely available but often misleading and potentially damaging. In addition to digital literacy, help your child learn to be a good digital citizen. Digital Citizens use digital technologies and the internet in appropriate and responsible ways.
5. Reclaim Family Meals
Studies find that kids in families that eat dinner together several times a week have higher self-esteem, better academic performance, and improved well-being. Make meals a screen-free time to connect as a family.
Summary – Building Healthy Digital Habits
Tech isn’t going anywhere, but families can continue to ensure the positives of technology and screens outweigh the negatives. These five behaviors offer a starting point to help kids develop healthy digital habits. As kids grow and dive deeper into devices, keep conversations ongoing and add more digital practices to support your family’s well-being.
About Jessica Speer:
Jessica Speer is the highly acclaimed author of books for kids and teens, including the forthcoming, The Phone Book – Stay Safe, Be Smart and Make the World Better with the Powerful Device in Your Hand (Releasing Summer 2023). Her first book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends), was a 2022 Kids Choice Book Award finalist. Blending science, stories, humor, and fun activities, her writing unpacks tricky stuff from childhood and adolescence.
She has a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences and a knack for writing about complex topics in ways that connect with kids. Jessica regularly contributes to media outlets on content related to kids, parenting, friendship, and social-emotional learning. For more information, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com