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Healthy family technology use: five steps

Healthy family technology use is about finding a balance between using technology in ways that meet your individual needs and ways that support positive family relationships. Our five-step guide can get you started on a plan that works for your family.

Your family’s relationship with technology: is it healthy?

Family relationships with technology are about:

  • how individual family members use technology
  • how individual technology use affects your family, including family relationships and communication.

If your family has a healthy relationship with technology, you all try to use technology in ways that are good for your family relationships. Also, you’re all more likely to have positive media experiences that meet your individual needs and interests.

You can achieve a healthy family relationship with technology by talking about technology use together and agreeing on basic rules and principles for family technology use. Our five-step guide below can get your family off to a good start.

Step 1: role-modelling healthy technology use

When it comes to technology use, you’re a key role model for your child.

Your own technology use and how you talk about it can shape what your child thinks is an OK way to use technology. The way you use technology also sends your child a message about how important you think technology is. For example, if you forget to take your phone when you leave the house, how does your child see you respond?

A technology diary can help you work out how much time you’re spending using screens and what kind of messages you’re sending your child about technology use. Try keeping the diary for a week. You could ask your child to keep a diary as well. At the end of the week, you and your child could share your diaries and talk about what they show.

For example, you might say, ‘My diary showed that I spend more time on social media than I realised. I’m going to make an effort to spend less time doing that. Did your diary tell you anything surprising?’.

It’s also good to talk with your child about the apps you use, the people and groups you follow, or interesting things you’ve read. This helps to create a safe, trusting environment at home where it’s OK to talk openly about technology use.

Step 2: getting to know your child as a technology user

Children often use technology differently from adults. Your child’s technology use will change as she gets older too. It’s helpful to get to know your child as a technology user because it shows that you respect and understand that your child might have different interests and make different choices about technology from you.

You can get to know your child as a technology user by asking him to talk about how he uses technology and what he uses it for. This can help you find out more about what’s important to him, and whether anything worries him.

You might find that your child uses technology and media to create a ‘world’ that you just don’t understand. This is often part of the fun for children. Try to enjoy your child’s excitement and enthusiasm even if you don’t understand why your child likes something. You could even ask your child to teach you a game so that you get a sense of why she likes it so much.

Step 3: finding and using good-quality media

Good-quality media can support your child’s learning, especially if it ties in with his interests, sparks his imagination or adds depth to something he’s learning at school.

You can encourage your child to use quality media by talking with her about the games she’s playing and the apps she’s using. You can also help your child make informed choices about new apps, games or programs by showing your child how to find reviews to inform her choices.

It’s also a good idea to let your child see you making good-quality choices about the apps you use or the programs you watch. Talking about your choices with your child is important too.

You might like to read more about helping children of different ages choose good apps, games and programs in our articles on quality media choices for young children, quality media choices for older children and quality media choices for teenagers.

Step 4: negotiating family rules

A family media plan can help you come up with technology rules for using technology in fair, safe and positive ways.

Your rules about technology use should be flexible enough to work with the way your family routine changes across school days, weekends and holidays. The rules also need to take into account your child’s changing needs and interests as he grows.

It’s a good idea to revisit the rules every few months and whenever you introduce a new device into the home. This helps you ensure the rules are still meeting everyone’s needs.

Here are some questions to help you negotiate family technology rules:

  • Do you want to have family guidelines about screen time hours? What about weekends, holidays, ‘binge days’, and tech-free days?
  • When and where can technology be used in your home? For example, in family rooms but not bedrooms?
  • Are any particular websites off limits – which ones, and why?
  • What information is OK to share online? For example, can you share geo-tagged smartphone selfies? Does this rule apply to everyone in your family?
  • Which devices can be used by any family member and which belong to individual family members for their use only?
  • What happens if someone breaks the rules?
  • Could technology, like a shared calendar app, help you stay organised as a family?

Step 5: using technology together

Using technology with your child has the same benefit as doing anything enjoyable together – it’s fun, builds your relationship, and helps you communicate with each other. It also helps you to understand your child’s technology interests and knowledge. And it lets you turn screen time into family time, so it can be a good balance for spending time alone using technology or going online alone.

Here are some ideas:

  • Use a device with your child to research something that you’re both interested in – for example, what to do on the weekend, or a new recipe to cook for dinner.
  • Play an ongoing game or activity with your child, like online Scrabble. This helps to keep you connected. It’s also fun and can be something special that just the two of you do.
  • Get your child to teach you how to play a game she enjoys, and to take you on a ‘tour’ of her apps and favourite websites.
  • Get active while using technology together – for example, going for a hike using a mapping app.
Any time you spend with your child that’s focused on him and his interests is a good opportunity to build trust, connection and effective communication. That’s true online as well as offline – look for opportunities to enjoy your child’s enthusiasm for the online world.

Parental controls and safety settings

Most devices have safety settings or parental controls, which help to control the content your child sees on her screen.

Safety settings can be useful when you have younger children. But tools like internet filters don’t necessarily reduce online risk for older children.

These tools can even increase the risk for teenagers over 14 years. If children are using filters at this age, they might not be developing the skills they need to avoid inappropriate content. And when they use the internet in unfiltered environments, they might take risks either accidentally or on purpose.

It’s also best to avoid using surveillance apps that let you secretly monitor your child’s online activity. Using these apps sends the message that you don’t trust your child.

Trust between you and your child helps keep your child safe online. Calm, open conversations about internet use can help your child feel that you trust him to be responsible online. And if your child feels trusted, he’s more likely to talk with you about what he does online and tell you about online content and contacts that worry him.

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Last updated or reviewed
12-07-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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