How Parents Can Model Appropriate Digital Behavior for Kids

You’re likely aware of the importance of teaching your child how to be a responsible digital citizen. What’s easier to overlook is the importance of being a digital role model. But our children are watching — and learning. That’s why it’s paramount that parents practice what we preach when it comes to technology. Read on for tips on how to model appropriate digital behavior for your children.

The dangers of technoference

Before we get into the how, let’s take a moment to touch on the why. Parental technoference — the sudden withdrawal of attention due to device distraction — can have a negative impact on both the quality and quantity of time they spend with their children. 

Nicole Baker, assistant professor of psychology at Franklin Pierce University, stresses that parental interactions are vital to fostering a child’s growth and development. 

She cautions that “parental technoference can contribute to an increase in externalizing behaviors (e.g., hyperactivity and aggression), as well as internalizing issues (e.g., anxiety and depression) among children.” 

The importance of modeling appropriate digital behavior 

It may feel like our kids are ignoring us half the time, but the truth is that they’re watching and learning from what we do. 

According to Baker, “When parents prioritize screen time, they inadvertently communicate to their children that digital devices hold more importance than human relationships and even the child's needs.” 

Children may also subconsciously mimic their parent’s behavior, relying on screens to meet their needs for entertainment and communication and using them as a means of self-soothing boredom.

Is device use by parents always negative?  

It can be easy to let warnings from experts send you into a tailspin of parental guilt. (Or is that just me?) In an increasingly connected world, there are valid reasons to be on our phones around our children — and, in some cases, it may even support our role as parents. 

For example, consider the parent who wants to attend their child’s sports practice, but is expected to be plugged in to work during that time. In that case, periodically checking their phone may allow that parent greater connection to their child than they would otherwise be able to have. 

Or consider the parent who takes a moment to look up parenting advice on the spot so they feel better equipped to deal with the challenge at hand. Here, the parent’s phone becomes an extra support line, connecting them to other parents in similar situations.

Like most things in parenting, our digital behavior is not a zero-sum game. The key is to be mindful of how we interact with technology around our children, identify areas for improvement, and take active steps to modify our behavior.  

How to be a digital role model

Here are some tips for modifying your relationship with technology in order to model appropriate digital habits for your children. 

Cut the cord 

Despite our best efforts, it can be difficult to ignore the siren call of the device notification. To resist the temptation, try setting your phone on Do Not Disturb — or, better yet, leaving it in another room. 

No phone zones

Establishing spaces where devices aren’t allowed can help foster connections in your family. These zones could be physical areas in your home, such as a particular room, or specific times of day, like mealtime. 

Give your phone a bedtime 

It’s well-established that screen time before bed has a negative impact on sleep for both kids and adults. Instead of doom-scrolling on the couch at the end of the day, model good sleep hygiene by reading a book, journaling, practicing bedtime yoga, or prepping the next day’s meals.

Phone down, eyes up

Make a conscious effort to not stare at your phone when you’re having a conversation, and not just with your child — remember, they’re watching how you interact with other adults, too.

Stay in the moment 

When you see something eye-catching like a beautiful sunset, it’s okay to grab your phone for a quick photo — but make sure the phone and the photo shoot don’t become the center of your attention. 

Use screen-time limits 

Setting limits around screen time isn’t just for kids. They can also be helpful for parents. Use the screen-time controls on your devices to set downtime for yourself, and explain to your child why you’re doing it. These apps can help you learn how to manage your own screen time.

Plan screen-free fun

Make regular plans to do things with your child that don’t involve devices. Going for a hike or a bike ride, attending a sporting event, or holding a family game night are all great screen-free options. 

Summary 

Our children learn how to behave from watching us. Therefore, it’s important that parents model appropriate digital behavior, such as limiting device use and prioritizing screen-free time.

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