Your family’s relationship with screen time and digital technology: is it healthy?
If your family has a healthy relationship with digital technology, you all use technology in ways that:
- are good for your family relationships
- meet your individual needs and interests
- are appropriate to your ages.
You can achieve a healthy family relationship with digital technology by talking about screen time together and agreeing on basic rules and principles for family digital technology use.
Our tips below can get your family off to a good start.
1. Be a role model for healthy screen time and digital technology use
Your own digital technology use and how you talk about it sends powerful messages to your child about the place digital technology should have in family life. For example, if you switch your phone off when you finish work for the day, your child learns that focusing on family is very important to you.
Keeping track of your screen time and digital technology use can help you understand the messages you might be sending. If your phone has a tracking feature, you could use this to keep track. You could ask your child to keep track as well. You and your child could compare your use 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 time and digital technology use.
2. Get to know your child as a technology user
Getting to know your child as a technology user will help you understand your child’s technology interests, needs and worries. You can do this by asking your child to talk about how they use digital technology and what they use it for.
You might find that your child uses digital technology in ways that you don’t understand. In this situation, you could ask your child to teach you a game so that you get a sense of why your child likes it so much. A bonus is that you can show interest in something that’s important to your child.
When you understand your child’s technology interests, needs and worries, you can guide your child’s screen time and digital technology use in a meaningful way. For example, you might learn that your child is very safe when using social media. But you might also learn that your child feels worried if they can’t respond immediately to DMs from friends. This tells you that your child might need strategies to limit their social media use.
3. Use good-quality content
When using digital technology, stick to good-quality content that ties in with your child’s interests, sparks their imagination or builds on something they’re learning at school.
Encourage your child to use good-quality apps, games, TV shows, movies and YouTube videos by:
- showing them examples of good-quality content
- talking together about the information, ideas and activities in the media your child is using
- helping them make informed choices using reliable reviews.
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.
4. Negotiate rules for family screen time and digital technology use
Rules are a way of managing screen time and digital technology use. They can help everyone understand your family’s expectations.
Here are questions to help you negotiate family rules for screen time and digital technology use:
- When and where can devices be used in your home? For example, is it OK for your child to video-call their friends in their bedroom?
- Are any particular apps, games or websites off limits? Which ones, and why?
- What information is OK to share online?
- Who can your child communicate with 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 digital technology use should:
- be flexible enough to cover school days, weekends and holidays
- take into account your child’s changing needs and interests as they grow
- help your child to understand that there might be different rules for different family members, depending on age.
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.
5. Use screens and digital technology together
Sharing screen time and digital technology with your child can be a great way to build trust, connection and communication and strengthen your relationship. That’s because it gives you the chance to learn more about what interests your child. It also sends the message that these interests are important to you.
Here are ideas for sharing screen time and digital technology:
- 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.
- Do something fun online together like a virtual museum visit.
- Play an ongoing game with your child, like online Scrabble. This is fun and can be something special for you and your child.
- 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 they enjoy, or take you on a ‘tour’ of their apps.
- Get active while using technology together – for example, go for a hike using a mapping app.