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3 Steps to Help Children and Teens Make Smart Screen Choices

Mother and two daughters sit on roof with smartphonesParents and children often seek help for issues technology has brought into their worlds. Some children may struggle with online bullying. Others may have been affected by sexting, which can easily shattered a teen’s social world, making long-lasting changes in how others view them and how they feel about themselves.

Research has shown that issues such as these can occur with increased exposure to screen time, which in turn is associated with an increased risk of mental health challenges (Shakya & Christakis, 2017). These mental health concerns may include depression, anxiety, interpersonal conflict, self-harm behaviors, and thoughts of suicide (Daine, et al., 2013; Shakya & Christakis, 2017). But with time and patience, recovery and healing are possible.

When making the decision to allow their children screen time, many families follow the recommended safety guidelines and discuss the harms this type of technology can bring into children’s worlds. But technology evolves quickly, making it difficult to keep up with all its potential dangers. Furthermore, adolescents are often expected to use technology in the classroom and in their social lives. For many youth, it has become normal to make new friends online, talking more with their peers on a screen than face-to-face. Certain risky behaviors, such as requesting nude photos, can be normalized by other teenagers.

It is important to teach children how their online environments impact their offline lives. I have found in my work that these three strategies serve as a good foundation for healthy screen use:

1. Connect with Your Child to Learn About Their World

As kids get older, they may want to spend less time talking with you. Yet they need your guidance and input as much as ever, especially if their lives are not going well. For parents who want to engage teens who turn away, my advice is to engage them in nonjudgmental and nonconfrontational discussions. A positive relationship needs to exist for everything else to follow. Show you care how they feel, and try to understand the world they live in. You can start by asking permission to talk. This communicates respect.

2. Model the Technology Habits You Want to See

Children learn by example. Our digital age makes it easy to spend most of our time online checking emails, shopping, and posting on social media. If you text and drive, you can expect your teen to do the same when they come of age. So be sure to model for your child how you would want them to behave with technology. Another tip is to use technology for positive activities such as managing chores and keeping track of school grades.

3. Set Limits On Screen Time

Behaviorally speaking, taking electronics away is punitive and tells children only what not to do. You can teach youth to use these devices responsibly by offering opportunities to problem solve and helping them restore any lost trust. It is okay to set limits with technology use, even if your child or teen owns the device. Relating your ideas to your family values is a nice way to talk about these limits and explain their importance. Allowing children to negotiate will likely increase their compliance and make them more accepting of rules.

Encourage your child to develop the skills needed for smart screen use (instead of demanding they already possess these) and you will likely see long-lasting positive outcomes.

If an issue develops with technology use, it is often best to not solve the problem for your child. Instead, you can teach your child about safe technology use by connecting with them, modeling good screen behavior, and setting screen time limits. Encourage your child to develop the skills needed for smart screen use (instead of demanding they already possess these) and you will likely see long-lasting positive outcomes.

A therapist can provide additional help with technology concerns. For instance, a child counselor can help young people experiencing internet addiction or bullying. Family therapy can address parent-child dynamics that could be exacerbating technology-related issues. Many counselors may offer a free initial consultation to see if they can help with your situation.


  1. Daine, K., Hawton, K., Singaravelu, V., Stewart, A., Simkin, S., & Montgomery, P. (2013, October 30). The power of the web: A systematic review of studies of the influence of the internet on self-harm and suicide in young people. PLOS ONE, 8(10). Retrieved from
  2. Shakya, H. B., Christakis, N. A. (2017). Association of Facebook use with compromised well-being: A longitudinal study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185(3), 203–211. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Monica Lake, PsyD, Topic Expert

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  • cherise

    March 14th, 2018 at 1:37 PM

    Im a grandma now dont agree with my kids how they let their kids use phones and facebook. when they visit its all kids want to do, I set rules for them so kids can be kids not on phone at dinner and they have to earn time on facebook. But then they go home..

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