Top Tips to Stop Stressing About Screens

From the Author of Screenwise, Devorah Heitner 

We as parents often feel guilty about how our smartphone and social media habits affect our kids – not to mention their iPad, YouTube or Fortnite obsession. It can seem like the digital world has won the all-or-nothing battle for our attention. To live a balanced life in the digital age, we want to be mindful of the ways we model empowered choices, rather than falling into habits that don’t serve us. Check out these top tips to discuss with your kids of all ages - everyone will be in the know, practicing thoughtful tech use!

Preschool and Beyond

Curate Your Home: Is it all tech, all the time in your household? Find a balance by making other things accessible and attractive. Can the art supplies be more accessible? Could the musical instruments be hung on the wall instead of put away? Could the next playdate involve making a pizza from scratch, baking cookies, or a pie? 

Elementary School (and Beyond)

Play what your kids play: Know their games and their apps. If you allow YouTube, be extra sure you know what they are watching and consider being in the room for YouTube time. If they are using it, you should have some experience with it, too. Note whether your child is creating or consuming media. If they are consuming, be aware of the content. If they are connecting with others, be sure you have talked about and agreed on a contacts policy… Who is it ok for them to connect with digitally? If they are creating, this is great. Engage with what they make. Encourage them to share in age appropriate venues.

Middle School  

This is a crucial stage where most kids are interacting more in digital spaces, from games to texting to social media. Click here for some helpful considerations to answer the question: Is my child ready for a phone? 

Teach respect for other people’s boundaries in the digital world: Not everyone handles technology in the same fashion. An easy way to start is to ask permission before sharing or posting something about someone. If the person says no, honor that boundary without judgment. If someone isn’t allowed to be on the phone after a certain hour, don’t contact them. If you don’t hear back from someone right away, they are probably sleeping or busy doing homework or another activity. Don’t “blow up their phone” with a million texts! Also, remember not to react digitally if something upsets you. Wait a while, calm down and talk in person. Reacting on social media or via text can really intensify a conflict.

High School

Discuss mindful digital relationships and reputation: This is a time to make sure teens’ digital self-representation lines up with how they see themselves. If someone looks you up on social, or a search engine, will they get a misleading impression? Friendships are growing deeper, and kids may remind each other to put down phones and really talk. Teens may start dating and need to talk with partners about frequency of contact. Our devices make it easy to check in constantly, but that may not be ideal for each individual, or for the relationship. A good thing to talk with teens about: What issues are more appropriate for face to face, rather than text? 


Cultivate independence: You may still be paying the smartphone bill but they are on their own. Hopefully observing good boundaries, not texting in classes or emailing their professors late at night expecting answers. Your job is to stay out of it and but support and advise if they need you. Don’t geo-track them to see if they’ve gone to class or stalk their social media too closely!

All Ages

Model appropriate tech use: If you text and drive, they will see that. If you have your phone out at mealtime, they will want to use devices at mealtimes. When your child sees you interacting face-to-face and online with civility and respect, they pick up on it. The opposite is true, too. Just like we were taught in offline correspondence, the same holds true in email, text messages, Facebook and Instagram posts. Examine your own choices for how you spend time on digital devices to make sure you are living your own ideals.

Applying these principles will help you to stay more empowered. At the very least, it can help parents like you and me feel more in control of the technology that is omnipresent in our lives. As parents, we can be good mentors. We  always want to be in a position to steer the discussion, influence habits, and even inspire ourselves and our kids to use the power of technology to make a positive difference in the world!

About Dr. Devorah Heitner

Author Devorah Heitner

An expert and popular speaker on young people’s relationship with digital media and technology, Dr. Devorah Heitner is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World and founder of Raising Digital Natives. Her mission is to cultivate a culture of empathy and social/emotional literacy. Dr. Heitner’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine and Education Week. She has a Ph.D. in Media/Technology & Society from Northwestern University and has taught at DePaul and Northwestern. She is delighted to be raising her own digital native.