Talking about screens with your child

Discuter des écrans avec votre jeune

It’s important to have an open, ongoing conversation about Internet and screen use with your kids that is appropriate to their age.

Elementary school age children are generally at the discovery, learning and exploration stage of different connected devices as well as of their many features. You are therefore playing the role of guide in this online world.

As for teenagers, they are seeking autonomy and independence, just like in all other spheres of their lives! Your role when it comes to the Internet and screens is therefore to set limits within which they can live their experiences (all while keeping an eye on them from afar).

12 ways to talk about technology with your child

During your various conversations about screens with your child, remember these tips.

  1. Take an interest in how they’re using screens.
    Ask questions about their favourite apps, websites, streaming sites, and video games. If you have a teen at home, you can also ask questions about the social media sites they’re on, the influencers they like, the video game players they watch, or the content they post themselves. No matter their age, children like talking about what they like, without feeling judged.
  2. Agree on family rules for screen use.
    Rather than imposing rules on use that may not make sense to them, establish them together (for example, two hours of screen time a day during the week, never during meals or homework, no cell phones in the bedroom). Then, regularly go over the tips and rules for balanced screen use. Repetition is a good way to learn. Don’t assume that they have understood all your expectations after a single conversation.
  3. Address the topic of screens casually each time the opportunity arises.
    If the news reports on a traffic accident caused by texting while driving, for example, take the opportunity to talk about when it is and isn’t appropriate to use a phone. If a movie you’re watching shows someone who is a victim of cyberbullying, explain that this type of situation needs to be reported to a trusted adult.
  4. Talk about “online” and “offline” activities rather than contrasting the “virtual world” with the “real world”.
    Accept that online friends or experiences can be “real” to your child. Understand that a fight with a friend on social media is as real for your child as if it happened in the schoolyard.
  5. Validate what your child is experiencing when they use screens.
    Make them feel like it’s normal to want to connect when they have free time or if they’re bored, and that it can sometimes be hard to set screens aside. Talk about your own experiences and make them understand that most people go through the same thing. Together, reflect on the appeal of screens and the different ways to stay in control of them.
  6. Explain that everything they see online is not necessarily true.
    Some photos or videos may have been doctored. Also talk to them about what fake news is. Then, help them learn how to look critically at the ads they’re exposed to when playing online or watching a streaming site.
  7. Ask them if they’re aware of certain risks related to Internet and screen use.
    Can they list them? Have they heard about them at school? Have they talked about it with friends or family members? What do they think about it?
  8. Help them discover other positive aspects of technology.
    Invite your youngest to watch a youth series that could interest them; show them how to find information on Alloprof; download educational apps for them on the family tablet. If your child is older, explain how to find reliable information online on topics they’re interested in; talk about apps they can download on their phone that could help them manage their time or studies. Making experiences with screens positive and talking about their advantages with youth will eventually make them more receptive to discussing the ways to limit their use.
  9. Show them both sides of the coin.
    Explain to your child that being aware and appreciative of the benefits and advantages of screens in our lives, and society in general, doesn’t mean they can’t also keep up with their pitfalls and harmful effects. Having two apparently opposing views on a topic is not always easy to understand for children who are trying to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills.
  10. Avoid alarmist tactics to forbid certain online behaviours.
    Avoid telling them things like “you can’t use social media because it’s full of online predators” or “you play video games too much, you’re going to become a cyber addict.” Rather, choose to have a calm conversation where you present statistics and true stories that will back your remarks. Listen to their opinions and experiences on the risks of online activities. All this will encourage them to think and act in a preventive manner.
  11. Talk about online safety.
    Explain to your child how to avoid certain risks and pitfalls when browsing online, such as asking for permission before downloading content to avoid viruses that can infect devices; only talking to and sharing information online with people they know well; memorizing passwords and making sure they stay private; and being sure of what they post online because this content, even if deleted, can still be accessible, for example, through screenshots.
  12. Let them know that the door is always open to talk.
    Tell them they can always come to you if they come across things they don’t understand while browsing online, if they have a bad experience, or if they see content that doesn’t seem appropriate for their age. The goal is for them to feel comfortable coming to you rather than feeling at fault.

During your conversations, try to be open, objective, positive and non-judgemental. Consider talking about this topic with other parents to share your challenges, but also your tips, with the aim of better managing the whole family’s screen use.