The Right Rules to Prevent Device Addiction in Kids

By Rebecca Paredes
May 22, 2024
Teen boy looking at phone with head in hand

Welcome to Parent Pixels, a parenting newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. This week:

  • 55% of parents find parental control software such as Apple Screen Time and Google Family Link difficult to use and set up, according to research.
  • How do rules around smartphone use impact the way your child feels about their smartphone?
  • Ready to start having conversations with your child about online safety? Save these conversation-starters.

Digital Parenting

How can parents fight internet addiction and smartphone overuse?

Every other week, we see new headlines about the damaging effects smartphones and social media have on our children’s mental health. But what about practical solutions and tips for parents? Those get less attention. Until now. 

Two recent studies reveal the critical role parents play in promoting healthy tech habits. Spoiler: the findings indicate that battling unhealthy tech boils down to communication and rule-setting, not ruling with an iron fist or spying on your kid. 

A study published in JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting explored how digital interventions can help fight internet addiction (IA) in young children. IA is a behavioral disorder defined as excessive and uncontrolled use of the internet and digital devices. The study involved interviews with 28 parents of children aged 7–11 in Indonesia, along with child therapists. Why Indonesia? The risk of internet addiction tends to be higher in lower-income regions with lower quality of life, and the country has a high prevalence of IA, particularly among children.

Key findings

  • Parents know about parental control software, such as Google Family Link and Apple Screen Time, but a majority of parents (55%) found it difficult to use and set up, and 41% weren’t able to set the rules they wanted.
  • Parents struggled to find appropriate activities to replace screen time and worried that strict rules may harm parent-child relationships.
  • Child therapists suggested that parents should also promote healthy digital behavior, improve digital literacy, and monitor and limit internet use. 

The second study, published in Addictive Behaviors, examined strategies to reduce problematic smartphone use (PSU) among adolescents. PSU refers to a behavioral pattern where a person excessively uses their smartphone in a way that significantly interferes with daily life. This research involved 1,187 families with kids between the ages of 14–18 years old over a six-month period. 

Key findings

  • Setting clear rules and boundaries for smartphone use led to a notable decrease in PSU and reduced social pressure to use smartphones
  • When mothers promoted positive smartphone use (such as encouraging educational apps and critical discussions about content), it helped lower emotional dependence on digital devices.
  • The researchers recommend a balanced parenting approach to manage PSU, combining open communication, supportive parenting, and careful rule-setting.

What this means for parents

The findings of these two studies point to two facts about parenting in the digital age: tools like Apple Screen Time can aid in monitoring, but they’re most effective when paired with open communication and clear rules. 

Here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Regularly talk to your kids about how they use the internet and their smartphone. Reinforce safety rules like never talking to strangers and always keeping their personal information private.
  • Involve your children in setting rules around screen time limits, like leaving their phone in another room during study hour and an hour before bedtime. 
  • Help your kids find engaging offline activities to reduce screen time.
  • Use parental control software, but ensure it's part of a broader strategy that includes digital literacy education and ongoing conversations. 

Parent Pixels is a biweekly newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. Want this newsletter delivered to your inbox a day early? Subscribe here.

Practical Parenting Tips

What to do when your kid hacks their Apple Screen Time limits

If you’re frustrated that your child keeps finding a way around their screen time limits, you’re not alone. Read on to learn some common ways kids turn off Screen Time and what parents can do about it.

How to create a family texting contract

As you get ready to hand your child their new device, it’s useful to create a family texting contract with expectations on how they will behave with their new privileges. Here’s how to do it.

Tech Talks With Your Child

One of the most effective methods for keeping your child safe online is to have regular conversations about their internet activity and what they encounter. Here are some conversation-starters to get you going:

  1. “I want to talk about the importance of keeping personal information private online. Why do you think that's important?”
  2. “How do you decide which apps or games are okay to download? Let's go over what makes an app safe and appropriate.”
  3. “Setting screen time boundaries is really important. Why do you think it's important to have a balance between time spent online and time doing other things?”
  4. “When you’re online, do you feel pressure to act a certain way or to share things to get likes or comments? Tell me more about that.”
  5. “Are there any questions you have about the internet or social media that we haven't talked about yet?”

What’s Catching Our Eye

✍️ President Biden has signed the REPORT Act into law. The bipartisan bill requires online platforms and social media companies to report child sex trafficking and online enticement to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s tip line. The bill is the first major piece of legislation that would put enforcement and accountability mechanisms on social media platforms in years, according to the senators behind the bill. 

⚖️ In response to the TikTok ban, both TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and a group of TikTok creators have officially sued the U.S. government.

🐤 New product feature: BrightCanary now displays deleted text messages in your child’s text threads. Download BrightCanary on the App Store today!

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