Talking to your 6- to 12-year-old about screens

Une mère et son enfant devant une tablette

It’s important to have an open, ongoing conversation about Internet and screen use with your child according to their age.

Elementary school age children are generally at the stage of discovering, learning and exploring various connected devices and their many features. Your role is therefore to guide them in this online world.

10 tips for talking tech with your child

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

  1. Agree on family rules for screen use.

    If your child’s age and maturity allow, you can take their opinion into account when determining appropriate screen time and when defining the times and areas of the house that should be screen-free (e.g., two hours of screen time a day during the week, never during meals or homework, no tablets in the bedroom, etc.). Go over the tips and rules regularly and adjust them as necessary. Repetition is a good way to learn. Don’t assume that your child has understood all your expectations after a single conversation.

  2. Address the topic of screens casually at every opportunity.

    If you’re watching a children’s show together, for example, where a character is dealing with online nastiness (cyberbullying), take the opportunity to explain to your child that this kind of situation should be reported to a trusted adult. Tell them that they can always come and talk to you if they feel uncomfortable online or encounter inappropriate behaviour.

  3. Talk about “online” and “offline” activities rather than contrasting the “virtual world” with the “real world”.

    Online friends and experiences may be very real to your child. Be careful that your language doesn’t trivialize the effects that online interactions can have on your child’s emotions. For example, an online argument with a friend can be as meaningful to your child as if it happened in the schoolyard.

  4. Validate what your child is experiencing during screen use.

    Make your child feel like it’s normal to want to go online 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 help them understand that most people go through the same thing. Redouble your efforts to promote activities that don’t involve screens.

  5. Explain that everything they see online is not necessarily true.

    It’s never too early to encourage your child to think critically about online content. Explain that some photos or videos may have been doctored. Then, encourage them to learn how to look critically at the ads they’re exposed to, especially if they are old enough to play online or use a streaming site.

  6. Ask them if they’re aware of any risks related to Internet and screen use.

    Can your child name them? Have they heard about them at school? Have they ever talked about these risks with friends or family members? What does your child think?

  7. Help your child discover other positive aspects of technology.

    Encourage your child 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. Making experiences with screens positive and talking about their advantages with your child will eventually make them more receptive to discussing the ways to limit their use.

  8. 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 that they shouldn’t also watch out for their pitfalls and harmful effects. Having two apparently opposing views on a subject is not always easy to understand for children, who are still developing their critical thinking and analytical skills.

  9. Discuss online safety.

    If your child has access to a personal device, explain to them how to avoid certain risks and pitfalls when using the Internet, for example by asking permission before downloading content and by only talking to and sharing information online with people they know well.

  10. Let them know that the door is always open to talk.

    Tell your child 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 your child to feel comfortable coming to you if it happens, rather than feeling guilty.

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