Show interest and curiosity
Encourage your child to share what they are doing online, what apps they are using, and what content they are consuming. By showing interest and curiosity, you can create a safe and non-judgmental space for your child to talk about their online experiences. I’ve done this with my own. A simple, “how does that app work?” or “why do you like that app?” goes a long way. You’ll be surprised at how they actually want to show you their world.
Instead of immediately criticizing or scolding your child for their online behavior, such as scrolling, TikToking, Snapping, etc, try to be supportive and understanding. This can help your child feel comfortable discussing their online experiences with you. You can ask open-ended questions to encourage discussion and active listening to show you care. You can ask what they are gaining from these apps and experiences, and how they feel they are adding value to their lives. A few years ago, I thought my son was endlessing scrolling videos and I was becoming annoyed. I decided to ask him what he was doing and why. Come to find out, he’s watching videos on science and engineering and learning way more than he was learning in a classroom, and in an engaging way. He was pursuing his interests. One of my daughters has helped countless friends in emotional situations, when I think she’s just doom scrolling. We have to give them a chance to explain.
Set a good example
As a parent, it's important to model responsible digital behavior. Show your child how to use technology in a balanced and healthy way, and make sure to prioritize face-to-face communication and other offline activities. Avoid being distracted by your phone or other devices when spending time with your child, and encourage family time and outdoor activities. I know, this is hard. So much so that I recently saw an ad for a fake book that holds a phone with the intended use of making the child think the parent was reading and not on their phone! Ok, that’s going a bit far! Again, if we can put some tiny habits in place, like phone free dinner/movie/game time, it’s a start.
Talk about online safety
I don’t often harp on this one, because there are countless resources and information out there about digital citizenship and online safety, whereas I focus on digital wellness and finding a healthier way to engage with technology. But, yes, it’s important to discuss online safety with your child and teach them how to protect their personal information, avoid strangers online, and report any concerning behavior. Teach them about the dangers of oversharing and the importance of password security. Share age-appropriate online safety resources with your child and encourage them to ask questions. I went through each phone set up with my kids, teaching what the privacy settings should be and why, and checked in with them multiple times.
Encourage critical thinking
Teach your child how to critically evaluate online content and recognize fake news, propaganda, and other misleading information. Again, this usually falls under the digital citizenship side of the conversation, but still important. Encourage them to fact-check sources, be skeptical of sensationalist headlines and to seek different sources for information. We STILL have to question some of the things that come out of our kids’ mouths when they share information they’ve read online. It’s amazing what they’ll believe and reshare because they say a TikToker say it.
Use parental controls as a tool
Parental control software can be a helpful tool for parents to monitor their child's online activity, block inappropriate content, and set time limits on device usage. Instead of using them as a means of censorship, use them as a way to help your child learn how to balance their online and offline activities. Work with your child to set reasonable time limits on device usage and establish clear rules for internet use. I was a big fan of Our Pact, and it’s what we used for YEARS. We talked about the hours they could have access or access would be blocked, and why (sleep, homework, dinner, etc), so that everyone was on the same page. Use it as a tool, not as a ban.