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Healthy Digital Boundaries for Caregivers

From social media to gaming, caregivers often think about the best ways to keep kids safe online. It’s helpful to think of online safety as a developmental process. There are different social and emotional needs related to technology as young people grow, which means there is also a need for different parental strategies as children develop.

The foundation for online safety is establishing healthy digital boundaries — what a young person is comfortable doing, seeing and feeling while using technology and how they would like to be treated by others.

Here are the 5 Steps to Healthy Digital Boundaries:

  • Ask your teen to show you what they like online.
  • Have them show you great places for teens and fill you in on areas that you might find interesting, too. Make this one area where you get to be the student and your teen gets to be the teacher.  For Example: “What are your favorite things about this app?”
  • Be open with your teen and encourage them to come to you if they encounter a problem online.

If they tell you about someone or something they encountered, work with them to help plan for safety. Sometimes, a caregiver may react with fear and try to blame or immediately take away internet privileges. While the goal of these actions may be safety, research indicates it can actually reduce safety for teens. A calm, open response will determine whether they confide in you the next time they encounter a problem.

Example: “Thank you for telling me about that awkward DM. Let’s talk through this together.”

  • Talk with your teen about what is okay and what is not okay online.
  • Allow young people to describe what they hope to see, do and feel when they are online.
  • Discuss what it looks like when someone crosses a boundary and different ways that they can handle the situation. For example, personal information (like a favorite band) versus private information (like a home address) and what they would do if someone asked for private information about them.
  • It’s important to explain the safety-related reason behind something they should “never” do online. For Example: “I want you to have a fun and safe experience on this app. For me, that means….What does it mean for you?”
  • Family media agreements provide a way to talk through digital boundaries. Talk to your teen about your internet safety concerns in a positive way and give them the opportunity to make safety resolutions that you can both live with.
  • Discuss what can be posted in their profile on a social networking site (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.), how much time can be spent online, and which websites are permitted.
  • Ask your teen to use the privacy settings provided by their social networking site. These settings will allow them to restrict who has access to their profile.
  • Young people can gain skills for self-regulation by learning how to manage their screen time by using digital well-being tools on their devices. For Example: “I hear you saying that phone time at night helps you unwind. I’m concerned about how that impacts your sleep. What are some other ways that might help you unwind after phone time?”
  • Decide if it may be appropriate to monitor your child’s internet use. 
  • “Parental control apps” are commonly used in families to limit digital access for teens. The goal is to increase safety but often, these apps can increase danger by breaking down trust and normalizing the use of control as a form of love.
  •  Overwhelmingly, teens express a need for open conversation with trusted adults instead of parental control apps. 
  • Creating family codewords can help a teen to manage peer pressure. For example, they may ask permission to do something on a FaceTime call with
    friends, but if they include the codeword, they actually want you to turn down their request.

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