Close that device! Right after you read this

Close that device! Right after you read this

Parenting in the age of screens isn’t easy. But you have more power over how they use the internet than you may think. Try these strategies to help all of you feel happier and more present. 

Child playing on a smartphone.

If you’ve ever seen a little kid get their hands on a smartphone, you know they’re better with technology than you are. Sigh. Kids love the internet, and it’s easy to see why. Digital devices give them access to games, education, entertainment, and their friends. And as they get older, teens can keep up to date on current events, get exposure to different people and cultures, and build meaningful connections with their peers.

Of course, all that connectivity can come at a cost. Social media can be a source of bullying and peer pressure for younger teens and children. And it can take time away from imaginative play and learning. Social media apps, designed to keep us scrolling, commenting, and liking for hours, can eat up time for homework, school, family, and real-life relationships.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 45 percent of teens said they were online almost constantly. Not surprisingly, the pull of being online doesn’t ease with age: Parents admitted to spending an average of 9 hours and 22 minutes every day in front of various screens, according to a study by Common Sense Media. Over 3 hours of that time was spent watching TV, while more than an hour was spent on social media.

How to rein in time online? It starts with you. Here’s how to help your whole household create a better balance.

1. Make time for all of you to unplug

It’s important to spend quality, screen-free hours with your kids, and it’s just as vital for them to see you enjoying unplugged time alone (say, while reading an old-fashioned book). So set screen time limits and bedtime cutoffs not just on your kids’ devices but also your own. You’ll model for them that life doesn’t happen exclusively online.

By witnessing their parents being present, making eye contact and having conversations, your kids will learn that these things are important. Spending less time online and more time together as a family demonstrates to kids that they’re valued and gives them a strong sense of self.

2. Know what they’re up to online

Monitoring your kids’ digital activities and discussing what they’re up to can help, too. More than 90 percent of parents have talked to their kids about appropriate behavior online, including what to share and how to interact with others, research shows. Many parents also follow their children’s social media profiles, so they can keep an eye on what gets posted and who is connecting with their kids.

3. Consider what your kid is ready for

It feels like kids are asking for their own social media accounts from the time they learn to talk. But there’s something you may not be aware of: Nearly all social media platforms require users to be 13 or older to access and use their services. This age limit was set by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Even if your child is 13 or older, they may not be quite ready to have an online profile. It’s sometimes hard for adults to put social media posts in perspective, and kids have an even tougher time with that. So, consider your own child’s maturity level when making decisions about social media: Can they handle the social pressures, the inevitable risks, and the big emotions that can come with social media use? You decide what’s right for your child — not them.

4. Keep your head up (literally)

When parents default to burrowing into screens rather than interacting with the people in the room with them, kids learn that behavior. It can impact how you interact day to day, and even who your kids turn to for important guidance. “It becomes harder for kids to talk to their parents,” says Courtney Cruz, shift supervisor at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in Los Angeles. Be receptive to your kids, and you’ll be better poised to continue to guide them as they navigate the complicated years ahead of them.

5. Remind them social media isn’t reality

It’s up to you to show your child how to be a smart consumer of media. “It’s easy to compare yourself to others, and kids don’t always realize that what people post on social media represents the good side of their lives — they’re not showing the struggles,” says Steve Simpson, author of The Teenage and Young Adult Survival Handbook.

That’s where you come in. Reminding your child of their own struggles that never saw the light of Instagram can help them stop comparing their daily life to someone else’s highlight reel.