You're standing next to a pile of holiday presents for your kids, but the only present you can think about is the smartphone you’re going to give to your son or daughter.
This step can feel scary. Maybe you’ve read stories about screen addiction or online bullying. What if your son starts falling behind in school because he’s online all the time? What if your daughter becomes depressed or develops body image issues because of Instagram?
These are all valid concerns. After all, the average teen spends nearly 9 hours online every day, not including homework. But bad outcomes aren’t inevitable. With your help, their introduction to the internet can set them up for a lifetime of healthy tech use.
Here are a few tips on how to guide your kids as they enter the digital world.
1. Think of a smartphone as a car
Like a car, a smartphone is a great tool that can be misused. Just like kids need coaching before they’re ready to take on the responsibility of driving, they need coaching before they’re ready to take on the internet by themselves. Inappropriate photos and embarrassing comments can live forever online. Instead of giving a child unlimited access to everything on the internet, give them the chance to earn more freedom as they prove themselves to be responsible.
2. Give your devices a bedtime
Consider keeping smart devices out of your kids’ bedrooms. Blue light from screens can interfere with sleep; being tapped into the internet all night can induce anxiety, and unlimited late-night access can encourage secretive or unhealthy internet use. Give your kids some rest. Charge phones in the kitchen and not on the bedside table.
3. See what your kids love about the internet
Ask your kids to show you what they love about the internet. Watch some funny TikToks and ask them to show you what they like on social media. The internet can be awesome. Enjoy it with your kids. This won’t just foster trust; it will also help you understand more readily if they come to you with a problem.
4. Experiment with tech-free Saturdays
Experiment with having your whole family put away their devices for one day. Plan tech-free activities like hiking or reading and let the conversation flow freely, without distractions — and this includes work emails! Remove screens from the picture and see how it changes the way your family members interact with each other.
5. Consider going lower-tech
Your kids don’t need smartphones to get picked up from soccer practice. If you’re still on the fence about giving your kid a smartphone, consider giving them something lower tech. Flip phones or smartwatches can let your child communicate easily without instantly connecting them to everything on the internet.
6. Use a digital parenting app
You trust your kids, but you still make sure they wear seatbelts. Digital parenting apps — which can block indecent content and keep kids safer online — are a commonsense parenting tool. Digital parenting apps like Canopy can help stop sexting and block explicit content. Find one that works for your family and install it. Your kids will thank you later.
Matt Gore is the director of engagement at Canopy, a digital parenting app.