25 Conversations to Have with Kids about Screens

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How do you raise tech-wise kids in a screen-saturated world? I can promise you that the answer is not found in a fancy application, phone contract or pepper-grinder that turns the wi-fi off. Research shows that good parenting is a healthy mix of warmth, firm boundaries and granting appropriate amounts of autonomy. This holds true with regard to just about any parenting issue you may face. It’s called authoritative parenting and research has linked it with just about every positive outcome parents are in search of: academic achievement, social success and family connection.

Effective parents have conversations with their kids about tough issues and explain the intricacies of such situations. I do not believe that monitoring your child’s Facebook activity is the solution to keep them safe and well-behaved. I believe regular conversations about the many issues with regard to technology can. I will be participating in two more panel discussions of the film Screenagers this Spring. The filmmaker, Delaney Ruston, suggests having regular conversations about technology in the home. She calls them “Tech Talk Tuesdays” and I agree with her that the many issues that can arise with screens merit multiple discussions. A simple contract or set of rules will do far less than analyzing the challenges together on a regular basis.

So, here are twenty-five topics that I suggest to get your Tech-Talk Tuesdays off and running. Below each are a few prompts or questions. You do not need to cover the whole topic in one conversation. You are opening the conversation so it can continue later. Some are appropriate for young children and some are appropriate for older children or teenagers. Some will work better if you let your kids take the lead and share information. Others may require you to share a bit of expertise and then opening up discussion. If you like the idea of regular conversations about technology, follow Delaney Ruston at her Tech Talk Tuesday blog for more ideas.

25 Family Conversations About Screens

Addiction

Do your kids think technology use can be addicting. A whopping 50% of teens surveyed said they feel addicted to their phones. Is your child one? Consider discussing some of the facts on addiction and what it might look and feel like. Discuss that prevention is a lot easier than treatment when it comes to addiction. How do your kids think they can prevent addiction?

Silence> Saying Something> Writing Something> Putting Something Online

Discuss with your child the difference between remaining mum, saying something, writing something down and putting something online. Each can get them in increasing amounts of trouble. What things fall into each category for them?

Bullying

I suggest talking about cyberbullying as a part of a larger conversation about bullying. Ask your kids what bullying looks like. Have they ever seen it in person? Online? How do they think the bully feels? The victim? What would they do if they were the victim of bullying? What would they do if they witnessed bullying? What is the difference between cyberbullying and bullying in person?

Sexting

54% of teens admit to sending or receiving texts. Discuss how you define sexting and how your child defines it. Discuss some of the potential negative consequences. Refer to talking point number 2.

Driving and Phone Usage

40% of teens admit to texting and driving. What are the family rules around phone use in the car? How can you help your child from being distracted while driving (if they are of age or planning ahead if they are close). Hands free devices? Automatic texts back about being in the car? Phone in the trunk?

Online Privacy

Do you believe you can be anonymous online? How? Does your child? What steps do they take to ensure privacy? Play with and explore the privacy settings on some popular devices, platforms and applications.

The Time Suck

THEORIES ON WHY WE DONT HAVE ENOUGH FREE TIME
Check out our theory on why most parents do not have enough time in The Time Suck.

Does your child ever feel like they lose time when they are with screens? Does this bother them? Why or why not?

Managing Distractions

I feel for teens today. I cannot imagine doing my homework with the internet in my pocket. I am a pretty smart gal and I don’t know if I could do it. Ask your children how they manage screen distractions in different environments: school, social settings, doing homework etc.

Values and Goals

I feel you should regularly discuss your values and goals, individually and as a family. What does your child want to achieve today, tomorrow, next year, in five years? What do they value? How can they utilize technology productively in service of these things?

Porn

Male or female, you should talk to your child about online porn. Earlier than you think you should. Discuss your family rules and values around the topic and answer any questions your child might have. This article provides a good starting place. The Big Disconnect by Catherine Steiner-Adair provides some good information as well.

Gender Portrayals

One of the saddest pieces of research I have ever read was that while white male children experienced a self-esteem boost after watching television, female and minority children experienced a decline. Reducing my children’s exposure to rigid gender portrayals has been one of the my favorite benefits of being screen-limited. Discuss gender portrayals when you see them but also talk about it when the screens are off. What do your kids see males doing on TV? Females? How does it jive with their “in real life” experience? What things do they agree with? Disagree with?

See this article for five tips on counteracting media gender stereotypes.

Violence and Screens

Kids aged 3-6 are incredibly susceptible to imitating what they see on screen.

There are several ways in which digital life differs from real life: violence is one. In their recent policy statement on screen violence, the American Academy of Pediatrics referenced stats which estimated that the average child would view 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence by middle school (via screens). They recommend you avoid any programming with violence (including cartoon violence) until age eight. Ask your child if they have ever seen violence on TV. Ask how they think violence on TV disagrees from violence in real life. Ask them if they think violent TV or games desensitize people to real life violence (their original intended purpose). The AAP also reported in their statement that “proven scientific connection between virtual violence and real-world aggression.”

Social Skills

This topic is so broad and could be hundreds of mini-conversations. Ask your child if they feel social skilled? Do they ever feel uncomfortable in social situations? What do they do to ease their discomfort? Do their strategies help (or hurt) their relationships?

Texting Vs. Calling

What situations require a phone call and what situations require a text? When would your child prefer a phone call versus a text? How might it differ person-to-person?

Photo Etiquette

With social media, there is a whole new area of etiquette to learn and figure out. Ask your children what is the appropriate etiquette around positing or taking photos? Have they ever been bothered by something that was posted about them? How did they handle it? How do they handle posting photos when others are involved?

The Beauty of Doing Nothing

Ask your child if they can come up with any benefits of doing nothing or being bored. Some things to brainstorm are creativity, time to reflect on conversations, think through things, get a brain break etc. Ask them when they “do nothing” and if they think it is important.

Displacement

SPOIL System for screen-free parenting leader image
We created The SPOIL System which is our psychologically-based system for prioritizing child’s play.

Displacement is basically the idea that screens take time away from other important activities (socializing in person or being outside, for example). Define this idea for them and ask them if they feel that happens in their lives, their friends’ lives or family members’ lives.  For example, “Are their things you would like to accomplish that you could do if you didn’t do X?” Check out our SPOIL System which outlines the 5 things you should aim to do daily before turning to a screen.

Screen-Free Times

When do your kids think screens are a no-go? You may have your opinion but hear theirs first. When family is visiting? During the dinner hour? While in bed? When does it bother them that someone else is using their phone?

Screens & Sleep

Research consistently shows a link between screen usage and sleep problems. Screens can affect sleep in a few ways: via the blue light emitted, if a teen sleeps with a screen and is awakened by notifications and if a child has trouble turning of a screen (binge-watching shows or video games). Ask your child how they feel when they good night’s sleep? What about a poor night? How many hours of sleep do they think they need? How do screens impact sleep? If you are concerned about how much sleep your child is getting, check out the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for sleep amounts by age.

What Are You Watching

Curiosity causes trouble for George, but it’s a pretty good quality in a parent. Ask your child what they are currently watching. Why do they like it? What shows are popular now? Why do they think they are popular?

What Are You Playing

Again, just be curious. Ask your child what games they like to play and why. What games to their friends play?

Who Are You Talking To

Who do they talk to via social media, text or phone? Who do they not talk to? Who do they enjoy speaking with? Who upsets them?

Self-Esteem and Screens

Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves. Ask your child what contributes to their self-esteem (grades, sports, relationships, etc.). Research has shown that multiple domains of self-esteem helps protect children from a loss in one area (i.e. a poor swim meet is buffered by an A in Math). Ask your child how their self-esteem is affected by using social media (or if it is at all)?

Screens & Homework

What are the house rules around homework and screens? Has your child been successful in their homework? How do screens help or hurt their performance? How can you help them manage their homework?

Push Notifications

Discuss what a push notification is (it’s when an app sends you a notice that something has been changed or updated; i.e. a Facebook message). Discuss how they can be disruptive and how they can be disabled if your child wants.

Bonus: Parental Use

For regular Tech Talks to work, you need to be open to your child leading the conversation and reflecting on your own use. Ask your kids what they think about your tech use. Are you incapable or are you addicted? What bothers them about your use or your attitude towards technology? Keep an open mind and take in their opinion.

Regular Conversations are Key

You are not going to be able to outsource parenting around screens to an app or a contract. It is a big topic that affects everything from self-esteem to sleep. It is going to require regular, little conversations. If you enter with an open mind and the goal to learn more about your child, these conversations can be a great opportunity to connect and bond.

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