5 tips for smart digital parenting

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Did you know that Canadian kids spend an average of seven hours and 48 minutes a day in front of screens (study)? These screens refer to computers, tablets, smartphones, and other gadgets that are connected to the internet.

Why is this bad?
Research shows that sustained computer/internet use among young kids:

  • increases the risk of obesity
  • causes sleep problems
  • has a negative effect on school performance
  • can lead to addiction and problematic internet use (e.g. internet gaming disorder, anti-social behavior)
  • exposes them to inappropriate content such as violence, porn, advertising and cyberbullying
  • can lead to depression

(Healthy Children.org)

It can be hard to avoid using gadgets. We relied heavily on digital tools when school, work and other activities moved online during the pandemic. And we continue to rely on them today. So it’s not really a question of whether we should allow use or not, but about how we can prevent overuse. The focus should be on moderating and supervising to mitigate negative effects. Here are some tips on how you can do this:

5 tips for parents

  1. Learn more about technology and internet safety

    Kids know more about gadgets and the internet than us. But we know better about the repercussions of losing self-control and the value of moderation. To bridge the gap, make an effort to understand how digital tools work, the types of content they engage with, and various tools or apps that can help protect your kids. The more we know, the better we can supervise our children.

    For instance, before saying yes to a game your child wants to download, read reviews from reliable, independent sources (for example, Common Sense Media). Popular games, movies, apps, and even TV shows are featured on this site. Find out whether they’re kid-friendly, educational, or if they are appropriate for your child’s age.

    To protect them from dangerous content, research about routers with strict filters, or parental-control apps. Stay updated about trends and new tech developments. Don’t forget that anything you don’t understand you can always search online.

    Suggested websites to read to keep up with technology trends: Get Cyber Safe, Cyberwise, Edutopia (for Educational Technology trends for K-12), Media Smarts, Childnet, Media Smarts – The Parent Network, Canadian Centre for Child Protection (Mobile Safety), and Family Online Safety Institute.

  2. Talk to your kids and help them make good choices

    Experts say that more than parental security apps, talking to your child is the best way to limit use. When parents are sneaky about controls, kids may take it as a challenge and try to find their way around them. It’s always better to be honest. Tell them why you’re setting limits. Explain why certain content would be harmful for them. Encourage them to ask questions or come to you when they have concerns about the things they see online.

    Teach them respectful online behavior. Discuss sample situations and provide the appropriate response. This will give your child the confidence to say no, or log off when a situation is potentially dangerous.

  3. Be a good example

    Kids are observant! If you don’t practice good digital habits around the house, no amount of scolding or laying down rules will work. Limit your gadget use at home if possible. Keep your professional and personal time separate.

  4. Read and play with them

  5. Spend time playing with your kids, with or without gadgets. Playing online games with them could help you check potential hazards. Meanwhile, board games, sports or other off-line games will help them realize that there are other ways to be entertained.

    One of the best activities is reading stories to your child. You can even read books or articles in your native language. Kids will benefit from hearing the words, rhythm, and patterns of language. This may also counteract some damaging effects of screen-time. Doctors believe that too much screen time affects the development of young children’s communication skills.

  6. No screen time one hour before bedtime

    Research shows that screen time (whether TV or computer) near bedtime can interfere with the entire process of winding down, sleeping, and then waking up refreshed in the morning. To ensure a good night’s rest, keep gadgets out of the room overnight or set them on night mode to limit your child’s exposure to blue light.

    Recommended screen time
    The following is the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines on screen time:

    • Children younger than 18 months – Avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming. They should also watch with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
    • Two to five years old – Limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and how it applies to the world around them.
    • Six and older – Place consistent limits on the time spent using media and the types of media they consume. Make sure screen time does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviours essential to health.

    Other tips:

    • Designate media-free times together, such as during dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as in bedrooms.
    • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including topics about treating others with respect online and offline.

Article updated May 8, 2024.
Sources: New media habits for young kids, Caroline Knorr, Common sense media; Here’s how much screen time your kids should be getting, according to new recommendations, Carmen Chai and Allison Vuhnich, Global News; 10 ways to keep your family safe online, Child Development Institute; Digital Citizenship: Guide for Parents, Get Cyber Safe, Government of Canada site; Melinda Gates: I spent my career in technology. I wasn’t prepared for its effect on my kids, Melinda Gates, The Washington Post. All accessed October 19, 2017.

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