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phone at the dinner table Parenting Tips

Healthy Habits for Kids Online

Haley Zapal  |  October 10, 2019

We all want to encourage healthy habits for kids. But are we setting the right example? As adults, we depend on technology to make it through the day. Scheduling meetings, checking emails, and managing our social lives would be next to impossible without the help of digital devices. For parents, the need for these technologies is even more urgent. On top of our professional and personal responsibilities, we also have to be able to manage the needs of our families. Whether it’s arranging playdates, texting about after-school activities, or setting parental controls, we all rely on our phones, tablets, and computers to keep things running smoothly.

At the same time, it’s important for us to be aware of our habits with technology. Yes, we need our devices — and they’re awesome in plenty of ways! But we don’t always need them. If we’re not careful, we run the risk of experiencing some of the downsides of the digital age — feelings of isolation and poor sleep hygiene to name just a couple. More importantly, we also risk passing these habits on to our children. Kids look to us to learn how the world works, and it’s up to us as parents to make sure that we’re passing on good digital habits.

Set a Good Example

One of the best things we can do to foster good digital habits in our kids is to practice good digital habits for ourselves. Kids are quick to mimic, and if they see us glued to our phones all the time, they might develop similar traits. It’s especially important to avoid pulling out your phone during family activities like having dinner, watching movies, or taking a trip to the planetarium.

We turn to our devices far more often than we realize, whether it’s to deal with an urgent matter, we’re looking for entertainment, or we just need a short distraction from the stress of parenting. Paying attention to our own approach to screen time — when, where, and why we use our phones — is a great first step to help our kids model healthy digital behavior.

Establish Digital Boundaries

In addition to setting an example, we can also set boundaries. What are some times and places that your family should not use devices? Family time is an easy opportunity to unplug — although technology can certainly be incorporated into family activities (Drawful, anyone?). It may also be worth discouraging phone use during the times before breakfast and right before bed, as well as the short moments between events like riding in the car or waiting for TV commercials to end. These moments of digital detox can really add up, and they’re awesome opportunities for families to focus on each other.

These aren’t just rules for kids, either. Parents should also make an effort not to use their devices at certain times and places. Not only will you then be modeling good digital habits, but you’ll also be more responsive to the cues your kid is giving you — whether they’re upset, bored, or excited — and you’ll be able to be more connected with them.

Invite Your Kid Into Your Digital World

We refer to kids today as “digital natives” — but that doesn’t mean they’re born knowing how technology works. Believe it or not, there’s actually a period of time where they have no idea what’s going on when we type out a message or strap on a virtual reality headset and start swinging our arms around as if we’re fighting Mike Tyson.

When our kids are around, it’s important to share what we’re doing on our devices. This helps them learn the context of what we’re doing and where our minds are going when we stare into our screens. When you learn about an upcoming Little League game, invite your child into the process. Show them the screen and say, “You’ve got a baseball game next weekend. Let’s put it on the calendar so we don’t forget.”

It’s also a good idea to consider how our kids might feel about the things we share about them online. Part of being a good digital citizen is protecting your privacy — as well as respecting the privacy of others. When it comes to posting on social media, it’s important to ask permission before posting images of our kid’s goofy smile all across the web. This is a great way to teach them to be thoughtful about their own online activities and can open up an ongoing conversation about digital safety. And who knows — they might even invite you into their own digital worlds!

Tools for Fostering Healthy Habits for Kids

It’s not always easy to form new habits — especially for busy parents. But there are lots of tools available to help them keep the bumpers in place. Giving your child the right device at the right time is an excellent place to start. Creating a technology contract can also help everyone in the family stay on the same page when it comes to digital devices. Parents can also take advantage of built-in parental controls. The Barkomatic is a one-stop-shop for the guides to parental controls your family needs.

In combination with each of those tools for developing healthy habits for kids, parents can use Bark to monitor their children’s online activities. Manually checking every single text is invasive and time-consuming. Bark alerts parents only when there’s a potential issue they need to know about — including cyberbullying, sexting, online predators, depression, suicidal ideation, threats of violence, and more. to monitor texts, chats, email, YouTube, and 24+ social media platforms for signs of digital dangers.

Bark helps families manage and protect their children’s digital lives.

mother and daughter discussing Bark Parental Controls