What it means to create a digital parenting strategy and how to balance social activity, entertainment, and education when it comes to tech use at home.
I am a Xennial. One of those cusp kids who was born between 1977 and 1983, whose upbringing was different from both those slightly older and those slightly younger than me. True Gen Xers, the ones born within 10-15 years of me, really didn’t see technology come into their lives until after their schooling years were behind them. Millennials, even those who are the same age as my three younger siblings, grew up with computers. Many Millennials even had social media prevalent in their formative years.
Computers were still emerging when I was in high school. Most people I knew had one central family computer, shared by all members of the household. You couldn’t spend too much time on the internet while you were on the computer- you connected to the computer via your phone line, which meant anyone calling (pre-cell phones!) got a busy signal if someone was online when an incoming phone call was made. E-mail wasn’t yet a thing, although chat rooms were becoming popular and picking out an AIM username was an important decision I had to make in my early high school years! I had a bulky laptop in college and got a university email dress when I went away to earn my Bachelor’s degree. Social media was not a thing during any of my schooling years- likely a good thing, if I’m being honest. MySpace, and eventually Facebook, debuted in my life when I was single and a 20-something navigating the digital world unencumbered.
All this to say, my parents never had to parent me through screen time and social media. They didn’t need monitoring apps (heck, they didn’t have apps in the 90s, let alone a need for an app to manage apps!), screen time limits, social media restrictions and everything else. Don’t get me wrong- I love parenting in the digital age, despite the challenges it presents. But today’s kids certainly face obstacles I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams.
If you’re a parent like me in this crazy digital age, it is easy to get overwhelmed. So much of parenting online is uncharted territory. So I’ve done my best to help create a guide you can use to help set you off down the right path. Without further ado, here is your guide to developing and implementing a digital parenting strategy to help you navigate this crazy (digital) world we are living in!
Five best practices for an effective digital parenting strategy
Creating a digital parenting strategy is important to be successful at managing your kids and their online presence. While a digital strategy is different for everyone, especially depending upon your child’s age, there are some rules for digital parenting that are universal. Use this guide as a jumping off point to help set you (and your kids!) up for success online.
- Talk with your kids. Frequently. Is there a new app they want to try? A new trend you’ve heard about that’s circling the internet? A post you’ve heard about? Talk to your kids. Ask them questions. Let them ask you questions. Figure out what they know and what they are curious about. Let them know they can come to you with questions. Let them know you care about what they care about. Keep the lines of communication regarding everything digital open.
- Use parental controls. So many apps, games, social media sites and so on come with parental controls. Even your devices likely have some sort of limitations you can set. Know the limits you can set before you give your kids access. It is easier to start with lots of limitations and lift them gradually as your kids get older than to go the other way. We make our kids ask for permission to download every app they want on their devices via Apple controls and it’s the smartest thing we’ve ever done! We have limits on all of their apps and games. It’s wonderful!
- Set limits and enforce consequences. Agree to a finite amount of time kids can spend online each week. Decide if this time does or doesn’t include schoolwork. Then enforce the time limits. Our kids are allowed 5 hours per week of screen time, not including schoolwork for our oldest. If they want more time, they have to earn it. They have limits on their online time to prevent them from going over, but, on the chance they find a work around (and they have! Kids are clever!), they lose their devices for a week.
- Friend and follow your kids on social media. My kids don’t have social media yet, although my oldest is asking more frequently about when she can have a TikTok account or an Instagram profile. Friend your kids on social media, or follow them. Have them set their profiles to private. Follow them. Friend them. Watch what they post. Watch what their friends are posting on their page. True, this could become time consuming quickly. But remind them that you (and anyone else who friends or follows them) can see what they are up to and enforce consequences if they post anything inappropriate. Remind them that online behavior has real-world consequences, not just now and at home but in the future when they get ready to join the workforce (case and point).
- Set a good example. Remember that, just like you can follow your kids on Instagram, they can follow you right back. Setting a good example of online behavior gives them something positive to emulate online. Show them what it means to be a good online citizen by not engaging in any behavior you wouldn’t want them to engage in. I love bragging about my kids on Facebook and Instagram, but I try very hard to keep any struggles with my kids off of social media so that it never comes back to bite any of us! I want to lead them by example, both online and in real life.
Digital balance: setting screen time limits and boundaries
In 2020, it was challenging to set screen time limits. Kids did school online. They chatted with friends online. They watched videos and movies to pass the time. Life was online.
Now that so many in-person activities have returned, we’ve had to reconfigure screen time limits. New boundaries are being set (and challenged!) regularly to help kids balance life online and in person. If you need to rebalance your kids’ time, here are some guidelines to help you get started.
- Set a weekly time limit on screens. This number should be finite and should encompass all activities that involve screens, minus schoolwork.
- Decide on a daily maximum for screen time. It can be shorter on the weekdays and longer on the weekends when they kids aren’t balancing as many activities.
- Determine how more screen time can be earned and the reasons for which it might be taken away.
- Set a no-screens time weekly to decompress and encourage other activities.
Getting offline: encouraging (IRL) social activity
While it’s true that kids can do a lot of their socializing online these days, it is important they socialize in real life, too. Finding a social activity, whether it’s a club, sport or other activity, that requires real life interaction is important for social and emotional growth in children. It will get them moving, keep them active and give them a place where they feel like they belong.
- Look for opportunities at your child’s school. Is there a language club? Sports club? Dance or drama club? Many schools offer free, supervised before or after school activities that will get your child interacting with other kids.
- Check with your local YMCA, scout group or library for free or low-cost activities. From weekly reading clubs to sports, there are lots of opportunities for your child to socialize and be active without breaking the bank.
- Ask other parents about their favorite activities for kids in your area. From dance studios to sports teams and debate classes to swimming, there is sure to be an activity your child will enjoy that gets them active and out of the house.
If your child is struggling to find an activity that is fun for them offline, offer a trade. For every one hour they do a social activity, they earn one extra hour online, or whatever trade works for you. You may have to try out several activities before they find their niche, but it is out there! Once your child attends enough classes and makes friends in those classes, they will likely look forward to going each week to learn about their chosen activity. And then they can friend their real-life friends online and it will all come full circle.