How To Talk To Your Kids About Healthy Smartphone Use
Your child’s phone is an important part of their existence, and we can’t forget that. But we have to remember to encourage healthy smartphone use, too.
Snapchat, Fortnite, WhatsApp, Facetime – sometimes it seems like there are dozens of apps and gizmos trying to lure your child onto a screen.
And if you reckon your kids are glued to their phones, laptops, tablets of Xboxes, you certainly aren’t alone.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a maximum of one hour of “high-quality programming” for children under 6, but thereafter simply encourages parents to “place consistent limits on the time spent using media” and designate screen-free time as a family.
But putting this into practice, without a chorus of protests and eye-rolls, is easier said than done. In the US, around 47 per cent of parents worry that their child is addicted to their smartphone, according to a survey carried out by Common Sense Media.
Some experts suggest that counting the hours a child is on a tablet or phone is pointless: rather, it’s worth focusing on the actual content being consumed.
If you’re a particularly screen-friendly family, fret not: a study of 20,000 parents published late last year by the Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University found there was no link between limiting device use and children’s wellbeing.
Still, creating healthy smartphone use habits in the first instance is the best way to ensure that you don’t come up against tablet-related tantrums.
- Don’t use your phone or iPad to get a young child to calm down
You wouldn’t give them sweets for bad behaviour, so why do this? It certainly keeps them quiet, but it also creates a correlation in a child’s mind between emotional comfort and devices.
Similarly, nagging your kids to put down their phones is pointless. Kids also don’t want to hear too much about how smartphones are addictive, or how technology is a bad thing.
A good starting point is to turn off the notifications on your own phone, and your child’s. That way, the ‘ping’ that creates the dopamine high that we all know and love will happen less and less.
- Lead by example
There’s no point in ordering your kids off their devices if you’re glued to Candy Crush for hours on end.
Kids know and like technology, so resistance is probably futile. Instead, show kids how they can use their phones and tablets for good, like staying in touch with relatives, or researching school projects.
It absolutely helps to create boundaries around technology in the home. Some parents reckon it’s a good idea to change the WiFi password regularly (it can be ‘earned back’ with chores).
Together, draw up some ground rules about when mobile devices can be used, and how much time can be spent on them. Arrange ‘no-go’ areas where devices can’t be used, like the dinner table, or the bedroom.
It helps, too, to create a ‘digital sunset’. After 9 pm, there is no real reason that anyone in the house should be on technology – it’s a time when the whole family should be winding down for bed. The small blue light that technology devices emits can really affect your circadian rhythms, which in turn plays havoc with everyone’s sleep patterns.