May 16, 2024

8 Tips for Caregivers to Encourage Digital Well-Being

Photo by Sviatlana Yankouskaya/

As we enter the summer months, many families are looking for entertainment, connections, and ways to keep their minds and bodies active while school is not in session. Healthier Generation and YouTube Kids have teamed up to help your family practice healthy online habits now and into the school year. Whether you’re heading to the library for free Wi-Fi, logging on to the family laptop, or browsing apps on your smartphone, these tips will help kids feel safe and supported online. 

1. Talk with kids about the benefits of technology and internet use

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The internet can make positive contributions to family life, such as free recipes, resources, and activities you can access online and apps to keep in touch with loved ones. Studies have found that with adult supervision, video chats and online programs can help young children feel connected and develop language and social skills. Discuss these benefits as a family. This will make it easier to set boundaries and identify what you don’t want to experience. 

2. Set age-appropriate boundaries

Boundaries help your family have safe, healthy, and enjoyable experiences with technology. Start with statements about how and when you’ll use technology. For example, a time-related boundary could be, “We can use a tablet to play with a game app during our homework breaks.” A communication boundary might be, “We check with a family adult before accepting a friend or follower request on social media.” 

3. Model healthy behaviors 

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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children start interacting with digital media at four months old, so it’s never too early (or too late) to start modeling healthy technology use. Designate activities and times in the schedule as family screen times and family screen break times. That means you’re using technology together – even if you’re using separate devices. By integrating technology into your family life at a comfortable level, rather than restricting it as a reward or forbidding access, you’ll help set up for lifelong healthy habits.

4. Be open about risks and precautions 

As a family, discuss the risks that come with online activities and technology in age-appropriate ways. This will be an ongoing conversation as technology changes over time. Consider these precautions to protect your family and your information:

  • If your child wants to download a new app, try it out first so you can see how it stores your information and what kind of content users encounter.
  • Look closely at the source and privacy settings of any apps and subscriptions before you decide whether to sign up and give them your information.
  • Remind kids to check in before interacting with strangers online, and to tell a trusted adult if someone they met online asks to meet in person.
  • Make sure they can come to you or another trusted adult if an interaction or experience does not feel safe, they feel pressured to do something by someone online, or they witness bullying or threatening behavior.

5. Identify characteristics of quality online content together

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When children are younger, it’s important for an adult to make decisions about their technology use. (Consider this list of recommended activity apps for kids up to age 12.) As kids get older, engage them in conversations about making tech-related choices. Talk about ways to discern if information is accurate and its source trustworthy. This will help kids develop autonomy, decision-making skills, and critical thinking. 

6. Check-in with youth about their experiences and interactions 

Social media platforms and videos can entertain and help kids stay in touch with friends. They are also spaces where young people encounter targeted marketing, imagery, and messaging that can impact self-esteem and trigger anxiety and depression symptoms. Talk about what you watch together with open questions about what they think and feel.

For younger children, enjoy content together that affirms healthy self-worth and acceptance, like “Della and the Search for the Mirror of Identity.” 

With older kids, support healthy body image and boundaries offline, and ask open questions about the content and people they interact with online. Listen to their answers and avoid responding with criticism to keep the lines of communication open. Try questions like:

  • “What do you like about the people you follow? What kind of content do they make?”
  • “I noticed this person focuses on certain topics. What do you think about those ideas?”
  • “I’ve noticed you spending more time on your phone instead of with your friends. I want to help you balance both. What do you think we can do?” 

7. Use tech tools and settings to protect children online

Settings on apps and timers on electronic devices can help prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate content or overusing devices. Check the setting options for browsers and subscriptions to create layers of protection. You can also adjust operating system settings for more general control of your family’s environment. Turning off app notifications can help maintain boundaries to help the whole family be present, reduce stress, and improve focus in their offline lives.

8. Enjoy offline, low-tech activities too

Technology can offer useful tools and activities for healthful living. Don’t forget to take screen breaks and to use technology to help you explore the world around you! For example, prepare a recipe you find online, then turn off your devices for family mealtime. You’ll get more out of your time together while using technology to support your relationships. 

Thank you for modeling healthy habits for young people in your family!