Your family’s relationship with screens: is it healthy?

If your family has a healthy relationship with screens, you:

  • all try to use screens in ways that are good for your family relationships
  • each get to use screens to meet your individual needs and interests.

You can achieve a healthy family relationship with screens by talking about screen time together and agreeing on basic rules and principles for family screen use.

Our five-step guide below can get your family off to a good start.

Step 1: role-model healthy screen use

Your screen use and how you talk about it sends powerful messages to your child about the place screens should have in family life. For example, if you always have your phone with you at home, your child learns that phones are very important.

Keeping track of your screen use can help you understand the messages you might be sending. If your phone has a tracking feature, you could use this to track your use. You could ask your child to keep track as well. You and your child could compare your usage and talk about whether there’s anything you’d like to change.

It’s also good to talk with your child about the apps you use, the people and groups you follow, or interesting things you’ve read. This helps to create a safe, trusting environment at home where it’s OK to talk openly about screen use.

Step 2: get to know your child as a technology user

Getting to know your child as a technology user will help you understand his technology interests, needs and worries. You can do this by asking your child to talk about how he uses screens and what he uses them for.

You might find that your child uses screens in ways that you just don’t understand. You could ask your child to teach you a game so that you get a sense of why she likes it so much.

Step 3: use good-quality content

Good-quality content can be good for your child, especially if it ties in with his interests, sparks his imagination or adds depth to something he’s learning at school.

Encourage your child to use good-quality apps, games, TV shows, movies and YouTube videos by talking with her about the information, ideas and activities in the media she’s using. You can also help your child make informed choices by showing your child how to find reliable reviews of digital media and content.

It’s a good idea to let your child see you making good-quality choices about what you use or watch. Talking about your choices with your child is important too.

There are probably many screens in your home, so be aware of what your child might be seeing. For example, some images on the news or in video games can be quite violent and distressing, even for young children who don’t understand what they’re seeing.

Step 4: negotiate family screen use rules

Rules are a way of managing screen time. They can help everyone understand your family’s expectations about screen use. Here are some questions to help you negotiate family screen use rules:

  • When and where can devices be used in your home? For example, in family rooms but not bedrooms?
  • Are any particular websites, games or apps off limits? Which ones, and why?
  • What information is OK to share online?
  • Are there some games or movies that need to be saved until younger children have gone to bed?
  • What happens if someone breaks the rules?

Your rules about screen use should be flexible enough to cover school days, weekends and holidays. The rules also need to take into account your child’s changing needs and interests as he grows.

It’s a good idea to revisit the rules every few months and whenever you introduce a new screen into your home. This helps you ensure the rules are still meeting everyone’s needs.

Step 5: use screens together

Using screens with your child is fun and builds your relationship.

Here are some ideas for sharing screen time:

  • Search online with your child for something that you’re both interested in – for example, a weekend activity, or a new recipe to cook for dinner.
  • Play an ongoing game with your child, like online Scrabble. This is fun and can be something special that just the two of you do.
  • Download a music app, then share and discuss the music you’re listening to.
  • Get your child to teach you how to play an online game she enjoys, or take you on a ‘tour’ of her apps and favourite websites.
  • Get active while using technology together – for example, go for a hike using a mapping app.

Any time you spend with your child sharing his interests is a good opportunity to build trust, connection and communication. That’s true online as well as offline – look for opportunities to enjoy your child’s enthusiasm for the online world.