When it comes to kids and technology, the times they are a-changin’. As the world becomes increasingly complex and more digitally connected than ever, it’s important to teach your offspring best practices before they succumb to the seductive power of the Internet for the rest of their young adult lives. With that in mind, we tapped Randi Zuckerberg, New York Times best-selling author, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, and, yes, sister to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for advice on how to integrate tech into your home in a healthy way. “As parents, we immediately go to a place of fear when it comes to technology,” she recently said by phone. Here, she shares her six digital parenting tips.
1. Distinguish between screen time and tech time.
Parents tend to conjure up an image of a kid on a sofa glued to an iPad—but that doesn’t have to be the case. There are hundreds of ways to introduce kids to technology that don’t include screens. There are board games that introduce early logic and coding, there robots for toddlers that teach the basic building blocks of engineering, the list goes on.
2. Discuss proper cell phone etiquette.
Typically, kids get their first cell phone between fourth grade and eighth grade. Plan to have a conversation with your children about what it means to have a phone and what behavior around one looks like.
3. Take a long, hard look in the mirror.
It’s important for adults to consider their own behavior. It’s really easy to sit and make rules for our children about how they use tech, but children learn through observation. It sends a message to your child if they feel like they need to compete with a screen for your attention.
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4. Create a “digital allowance” for your child.
It’s awkward for parents to always be the policemen. Sit down at the beginning of the school year and establish how many minutes of screen time a week is realistic for your child. That way, you’re teaching them time management: If you want to blow all of your minutes in one marathon session, then you’re not going to have time on your devices for the rest of the week. But if you want to ration it out, then you’re going to have to have screen time every day.
5. Encourage outdoor activity.
When it comes to young children, the tech-life balance should always skew toward life. Children have a lot of years as adults to be glued to phones and screens and voice devices, so the more you can encourage kids to be outside and play with games, the better. At the same time, it’s important for young girls to be exposed to technology at a young age, because unfortunately in our society, they’re not expected to learn about it.
6. Use parental control apps.
More and more, homework assignments are being given on computers and iPads, so lines are blurrier than ever for when a child is actually doing schoolwork on a screen and when they’re not. There are a few apps that send you detailed breakdowns of how your children are spending time on their devices, like Screen Time ($3; iTunes), that can be very informative.