How to set rules about your child’s media usage

This article is part of Media Education

Clear rules help children discover the digital world freely, but within the limits that are appropriate for their young age. But how do you get started with setting rules? Use these handy tips.

Don’t be afraid to follow your gut

It can feel helpful to refer to other parents, educators, or teachers when it comes to regulation of media usage. It might give you an idea of what works for other households and contexts. But that doesn’t mean you have to agree with their approach. Don’t be afraid to stick to your own gut feeling and convictions.

Keep the conversation light

Whatever it is you want to set rules about, it helps to make as little fuss about it as possible. Casually segue into the conversation from something that happened at school or in the news, or have a light conversation in the car. Do make sure you have enough time to discuss the topic thoroughly. 

Talk about difficult topics

Sexting or cyberbullying: you might not be particularly excited to talk about these, but it’s important to make sure difficult topics are open to discussion. That way, your children will be more inclined to come to you when something goes wrong. Here, too, it helps to touch on the subject casually.

Formulate rules positively

‘No more smartphones after 9pm’ versus ‘You can use your phone whenever you want, until 9pm’: it’s a small shift in nuance, but your children are likely to be more receptive to the latter than to the former. Focus on all the things they can do, and let them know that your opinions on media are largely positive. For example, you might remark that you’re happy your child is learning so much from YouTube, or that they are already more skilled with their smartphone than you are.

Be consistent

Rules are there for a reason: don’t hesitate to step on the brakes when they are broken. On the other hand, avoid rewarding children with more screen time when they show good behaviour. Of course, in exceptional circumstances you can choose to be flexible, as long as children understand that this case is an exception and doesn’t affect the rule itself.

Grow along

Rules for a 5-year-old are obviously different from those for a 15-year-old. But even within a year’s time, lots can change. Be open to renegotiating rules and agreements and to giving children more autonomy as they grow up. If you are worried, then take your first steps in media usage together, for example by creating an account on social media together.

Respect privacy

There will always be rules that children choose to ignore. It’s inevitable. But it’s not a good idea to check things behind your children’s backs that you really shouldn’t be checking: everyone has a right to privacy, including children and teenagers. If they discover what you did, it’ll only lead to a breach of trust.

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Published on 22 February 2024