NOV 24, 2021

From Toddlers to Teens: How to Talk About Tech

Learn the best ways to talk to your kids about technology

By Kara Rhodes
Gabb Family Resources

When your children have questions, you’re on the front lines. Although you may not have all the answers, you can be prepared when it comes to helping them understand the benefits and inherent risks of technology use. These discussions will set them up for success and prepare them to use these platforms in safe, healthy ways. You will also establish yourself as the one to come to when questions or issues arise. Together, you and your child can set healthy screen time boundaries.

Toddlers & Tech

There is no doubt that technology is becoming more and more relevant to younger children. Although infants may be excited when they hear the CoCo Melon theme song, other than playing with your Pop-socket, they are uninterested. On the other hand, toddlers may have a deeper understanding of technology than we suspect. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides tips on what healthy technology use looks like for this age group (Healthy Digital Media, 2019).

School Days

School-aged children begin learning with technology at home as well as in school. Here are some best practices and ideas for discussion regarding healthy tech habits (Gallagher, K. & Magid, L., 2018).

Talking tech with elementary school children:


  • Stay Aware: Ask your kids what apps and sites they’re using. Tell them your parental responsibilities include taking care of them and ensuring their health and development (Sharapaev, 2020, p. 15). In other words, parents are meant to keep their children safe and ensure they don’t harm others.  
  • Be There: Consider setting up a common area for your child to do homework so your kids aren’t using tech alone. Remember to check in with them often.
  • Help Out: If your child needs to search for something, assist them. Model where to find information and how to deal with inappropriate media.
  • Be Prepared: When children inadvertently come across adult content, look at it as an opportunity to talk together. Make a plan for when it happens again, and make sure it’s safe for kids to tell you what they see.
  • Set Boundaries: Limit the time spent on devices at home to encourage healthy habits for your child. Your home network can often automate that.
  • Stay Healthy: Every 30 minutes, encourage kids to take a break to promote eye and posture development. Screen time for school-age kids should not exceed two hours per day (American Heart Association, 2018).
  • Take Control: Parental settings can help you manage your child’s internet use. Just let your kids know what you’re doing so they can support you.
  • Be an Example: Use technology wisely around your kids. Children will learn from your actions.

Children’s brains are still developing and may be more sensitive to the effects of technology and its overuse than adult brains.

—Dr. Timothy J. Legg, Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of North Dakota

Want More Solutions?

Click here for additional resources, research, and solutions for parenting in the digital world.

Teens & Tech

It can be challenging to discuss tech use with teenagers, especially if introducing limits on screen time for the first time. They’ve developed strong opinions, and they want them to be heard. Adolescents need to be equipped to practice safe and healthy technology as their screen time typically skyrockets during this stage. “Most notably, smartphone ownership has become a nearly ubiquitous element of teen life: 95% of teens now report they have a smartphone or access to one” (Anderson, M., & Jiang, J., 2018).

These mobile connections are in turn fueling more-persistent online activities: 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis” (Anderson, M. & Jiang, J., 2018). It’s important to explain the inevitable dangers they will face online. Regular discussions about cyberbullying, mental health, sleep hygiene, addiction, and relationships are vital. Being transparent with your teen about these hazards will give them the knowledge they need to ultimately self-monitor their tech use in the coming years. The following information can facilitate that discussion and help begin an ongoing dialogue with your child.

Talking points with your teen:

  • Cyberbullying: Be on the lookout for cyberbullying. The CDC estimates that 15% of all high school students have been victimized in this way (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Stopbullying.gov provides an excellent overview of cyberbullying with strategies to address the problem. Check it out here.
  • Overuse: Teenagers that spend seven or more hours a day on technology are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health issue than their peers who limit their use to one hour per day (Twenge, J. M. & Campbell, W. K., 2018).
  • Sleep: Dr. Meg Meeker, M.D. warns of potential sleep problems, sharing that “electronic devices emit an artificial blue light that suppresses the body’s release of melatonin—our body’s sleep hormone. When this hormone isn’t released properly, it greatly affects our sleep” (Sleep Check Up, 2020).
  • Addiction: The developing brain is particularly susceptible to addiction. “Digital technology’s instant communication and information abilities give us instant gratification and we seek more and more” (Ives, 2012, p. 41). In fact, “brain scans show that the brains of internet addicts look like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts” (p. 42). Children’s brains are still developing and may be more sensitive to the effects of technology than adult brains. Overuse can lead to decreased physical activity, lower academic performance, lack of attention, delays in social and emotional development, [and] addiction to technology (Legg, T. J., 2020).

These tough conversations will bring you closer together and increase the likelihood that your child will come to you when facing challenges.

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