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How to model good screen practices for your child

Last updated: March 25, 2024

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As a parent, how you use devices and what you do online can shape how your children relate to the online world.

As you pick up your phones, use social media or open your laptops to check your email, the children are watching and learning from you. What you do online and how you use devices provides a model that can help to lay the foundations for their online safety. So it’s important for you, as parents and carers, to be aware of setting a good example.

In practice, this means getting involved in what children are watching and doing online, protecting their personal information and involving them in decisions about what you share online, as well as carving out some device-free time.

Below are some tips on modeling good screen practices so you can help your child stay safe as they explore.

Get involved and talk about the online world

You may often use screen time to occupy and entertain your little ones while you get on with your busy lives. But it’s also important to use devices and screens as a way to start conversations with younger children, to help build their understanding of the online world.

Getting into the habit of talking also means that, as your child grows older, they know they can always come to you if they have a question or experience something negative online, such as seeing content that is not age appropriate.

Talk about the internet and networked technologies

It is widely understood that to see a purpose for online safety, you must understand the concept of networked technologies. Young children are building their understanding of this concept. While they may not yet understand the internet or data sharing, you can lay the foundations for online safety by talking about how devices and people ‘talk’ to one another online.

Starting early with conversations about how the internet works and online safety encourages children to think critically about how data is stored, who can contact them online, and how online sharing might affect them. Read advice on online safety basics.

Talk about what you do online

If you pick up your phone to send a text, post an update on social media or use a map to search for an address, take the opportunity to explain to your child what you are doing. Let them ask questions and talk about what you are doing and why.

Connecting with children during screen time

Watching or playing alongside your child can be a positive experience that promotes learning and development.

Ask questions, be curious and follow their interests — at the same time, you can gently introduce online safety tips, such as not clicking on pop-ups and always coming to you if they encounter anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or if someone outside their family and close friends contacts them online.

Protect your child’s personal information and avoid ‘sharenting’ or over sharing

There are many benefits to sharing pictures and updates online and many valid reasons to share, whether it’s to celebrate the birth of a child or another special event. All those Facebook photos are cute — but have you thought about how they might affect your child, grandchild, niece or nephew in the future?

That picture of them covered in cake on their first birthday may still be online when they are a teenager. Once it’s online it can be very difficult to remove, and it may keep resurfacing in search results connected to their name. As they grow older and begin to develop their sense of self, their online identity or digital footprint will already have been shaped in detail by their parent and other family members.

Here are some tips to help you protect your child’s personal information and model good sharing practices.

Ask permission

Before you take a photo of your child, ask their permission from an early age. Do the same before you share a photo or write something about them on social media. Let them know who will see it, why you want to share it, and respect their decision if they don’t want to share it.

It may seem silly to ask permission from a two-year-old, particularly as children can’t legally give consent to share their image. But that’s not the point. The aim is to model consent and respectful data sharing practices. This example will come in handy when it’s time for them to share photos online themselves.

Talk with children about what to share

Make sure your child is aware of what their ‘personal information' is. Talk with children about how you protect your personal information — and theirs — online. Discuss what is appropriate to share, on which platforms and why, as well as the types of information that should stay private, like your address, contact information and date of birth.

Decide, together with your child, what you should share and who you should share it with. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to only post something online that you would be OK to share publicly with everyone.

Know who you are sharing with

Check the privacy and safety settings on all devices regularly. If you have older children, sit with them and show them the privacy settings for your social media accounts. Talk with them about the settings and explain how you can restrict sharing to smaller groups of people.

Remember, updating your privacy settings is not a failsafe, but it’s a positive step to improving your online safety.

You can also use parental controls, filtering, and other online safety tools on devices that connect to the internet. Read advice on how to tame the technology.

Carve out some device-free time

It’s important to create some device-free times and zones in your home to help your child learn how to balance their activities. By demonstrating that you can put your phone down and concentrate on spending time with your child, without the distractions of being online and connected, you provide a really important model for them.

This is important for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and older children. Remember, as you pick up your phone and focus on the screen, your children are watching and learning from you.

Measure how long you and your child are online

Do you know how long you spend on social media or email each day? If not, it’s a good idea to find out. Apple and Android devices have settings that allow you to monitor how much time you spend online. There are also apps you can use to monitor your online activity. Sometimes all you need is a little knowledge about how long you are spending online in order to change your habits.

You can also use the settings built into Apple and Android phones and tablets to set time limits on how long your child can use the device. This is especially useful for very young children as they see it as the device ‘turning off’ – not you imposing a rule.

Talking about a set amount of screen time with your child before they start to play a game or watch a program may also help them to transition to another activity when it is time to switch the device off.

Agree on device-free times

Talk together as a family about when everyone should put their devices down. Depending on your routine, this may be during meals and at night.

You might decide that you won’t use devices in the morning. Or you could decide that Saturday afternoons are a device-free time for your family, in which you can all play a game together or do another special activity.

Research shows that it’s important to turn devices off at least an hour before bedtime to ensure your child has the best quality sleep.

Set up a charging station

Setting up a charging station in a communal spot, where everyone’s devices are stored overnight, is a good way to ensure that devices are not used late at night. It can also help to ensure that children don’t use devices in their bedrooms or away from communal areas of your house, where it is easier for you to supervise what they are doing online.

Useful links

Online safety basics — getting the basics right for preschoolers, kids and teenagers.

Are they old enough? — when is your child ready for online access, their own smartphone or social networking?

Good habits start young — build digital intelligence and help your child act responsibly online.

Taming the technology — using parental controls and other tools to maximise the online safety of your home.

Privacy and your child — protecting your child’s personal information online.

(This article is contributed to by the eSafety Commissioner, the national government agency responsible for promoting online safety for all Australians.)

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