Jentrie Hales, community advocate, @techhealthyfam

With so much pressure and responsibility as a parent, aren’t we all just trying our best to raise decent human beings? It’s safe to saywe want our kids to be successful, kind, have morals, be accepted, and become self-reliant someday. In some ways, technology aids parents in accomplishing these goals. With the development of social media and other apps, individuals are able to connect, share ideas, unite communities, and learn skills, among other things. Still, we also know that unhealthy screen use is correlated with a lower attention span, higher rates of anxiety and depression, cyberbullying, and increased social interaction issues.

A 2019 National Public Radio (NPR) survey reported that 53% of children in the United States own a smartphone. That number rises to 84% in their middle and high school years, with the average screen time for this latter group being over 7 hours per day just for entertainment purposes. Screens are absolutely the norm. Not only are youth facing immense pressure to fit in, but they are also going up against app developers who are doing everything in their power to profit from their screen use. Much of the time, that includes designing apps to be as addictive as possible, which can be detrimental for these impressionable brains.

As a parent, your child needs your help to manage this immense power. While it may seem overwhelming at times, there are many ways you can support your child in developing healthy screen habits. A few of them include:

  • Create screen-free environments. Promote a setting where your child does not have to rely on their own willpower to create distance from their device. Some ways to do that include designating a phone basket for dinner and other quiet times, setting up a charging station so phones stay out of bedrooms at night, and having a structure in your day so your child’s time can be filled doing other pro-social activities.
  • Be a positive role model. According to the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, “We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them.” Whether you are conscious of it or not, your child is actively learning from you and your habits. Be aware of what you are demonstrating to your family with your own screen use. Know the answers to questions like “How much time are you using your device and what for?” “What triggers you to pull out your device?” and “Are you putting priority on your device above relationships?”
  • Help them fill their basic needs in positive ways. If your child does not feel loved, accepted, and valued they will fill that need somewhere else. The internet, gaming, and social media are convenient places to replace shallow versions of these needs. Make sure your child knows their infinite and unchanging value regardless of their successes. Consider having regular one-on- one time with your child. Learn about their likes and dislikes and be an open door that they can communicate with often. Be proactive in having uncomfortable conversations.

Remember, you are doing a good job. Your kid doesn’t need a perfect parent, but they do need a present parent.