11/05/2014 03:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Be a 'Screen-Smart' Parent

As with every parenting challenge, technology does not come all at once.

You don't have to worry about toilet training and sex education at the same time. This is also true for technology. Your child will learn to navigate your smartphone before you have to worry about her sexy Facebook profile picture or his list of Twitter followers. To help our children manage technology as they grow, we need to look at digital technology as a series of developmental or digital milestones. We need to understand each stage of our child's development and figure out which component of technology needs to be addressed then -- what the child is ready for, what might be risky or otherwise age inappropriate, and, perhaps most important of all, how digital media can contribute to healthy development.


In general, a progression of exposure seems to develop. Exposure begins with TV and music. It moves to simple interactive apps and games that don't require literacy. Educational shows and games are the mainstay in the toddler and preschool years, but that changes quickly. The quality of the television and the games changes by the early school years. The educational quality of most television seems to disappear by first or second grade. With exposure to other kids in later elementary school comes the introduction of video games that are less explicitly educational. The television watching leaves the domains of PBS and Nickelodeon and enters the Disney dramas and the Cartoon Network shoot-'em-up/superhero themes. The way in which we use games and TV changes with age and time.

The big explosion in usage comes in the dreaded middle school years. Technology usage actually peaks at this time. Kids are playing video games, and socializing online begins in earnest. Most kids are given phones in middle school, and they begin to text and group chat. They will join Instagram or Snapchat. The risks for cyberbullying and hypertexting emerge in the middle school years. Social media takes on its full force toward the end of middle school and the beginning of high school. Parents begin to lose control over their child's digital footprint by the end of middle school. Therefore, our goal is to take a thoughtful approach, with rules, guidelines, and open communication in place before our children enter high school.

In my new book Screen-Smart Parenting: How To Find Balance And Benefit In Your Child's Use Of Social Media, Apps, And Digital Devices, I give parents and families practical strategies for navigating the digital frontier and creating realistic, safe, rules and expectations for their children and teens.

Even for today's most tech-savvy parents, managing "screens" is confusing, fraught with uncertainties, and challenging. Fortunately, in six easy steps, parents and children/tweens/teens can take on this brave new world together.

The 6 Steps of Screen-Smart Parenting

STEP ONE: Knowing your family culture and technology.

STEP TWO: Understanding the developmental goals for your children and where technology fits in.

STEP THREE: As parents, you need to go out and get a clear picture of the landscape -- what's out there?

STEP FOUR: Become fluent in the digital landscape

STEP FIVE: Draft a family technology plan, sign you Family Digital Technology agreement, and follow the developmental model for digital parenting you created.

STEP SIX: Agree to and follow the "Cyber Bill of Rights" (and hang the rules prominently in your home!).

The Screen-Smart Cyber Bill of Rights

• Technology is a privilege, not a right.
• Technology is a tool, not an end point.
• Your digital footprint begins at birth.
• Privacy doesn't exist in cyberspace.
• The "delete" key should be renamed the "archive" key.
• Be kind online.
• Be an upstander, not a bystander.
• Don't share your passwords or personal information.
• Get permission to download or join new games and social media sites.
• Don't sleep with your phone.
• Create tech-free family times daily (parents included!).
• Your digital identity should reflect your true identity.

Good luck on your cyber journey!

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Based on excerpts and printed with permission from Screen-Smart Parenting. Copyright 2014 by The Guilford Press.