Keeping kids safe & mindful online…

My biggest parenting challenge right now is screens & the internet – it is ever more intrusive as the kids get older (my 4 are aged between 12-17!) and ‘need’ it for homework, socialising, music, take photos / films, entertainment etc etc….and the battle for screen-free time in our family grows!

No internet

So I’ve been doing a bit of research…and found this great website  on keeping kids safe online http://themodernparent.net/category/digital-safety/contracts/ – I really like the idea of introducing a contract – the earlier the better I think!  There’s some great articles there, worth a look – and I LOVED Martine’s unplugged parenting section http://themodernparent.net/category/parenting-2/unplugged-parenting/ so important for keeping some screen free time in the family!

I have always quoted the AMA research and recommendations that kids only have 2 hours of screen time per day to my kids – as they respond better to hearing that an expert recommends it and it’s not just me making something up!!  But recently the AMA has said they need to change these recommendations because they are no longer realistic – an average 11 year old can spend up to 8 hours a day on the screen (school time included) and a teenager even longer!  This really alarmed me so I had to go and do some more research about the impact of screens / internet use….just in case my kids challenged me again about my 2 hour limit rule!!

Firstly – it is widely researched that for every hour of sedentary behaviour over 2 hours per day – your chance of dying at a younger age is increased compared to those who are more active during the day.  This ALONE is justification for insisting the kids spend less time on their screens at home – given so much of their school day is sitting!  But surely there are other ill effects and here is what I found:

Effects of too much time on the screens:

  • Poor Posture
  • Poor Eyesight
  • Poor Motor skills
  • Disrupted Sleep
  • Increased sedentary behaviour  – poor health,
  • Social isolation and reduced social skills
  • Reduced active play /social interaction crucial for brain development
  • Reduced psychological wellbeing: (self-esteem, jealousy, FOMO,   reduced mood, unable to be alone)
  • young kids who used tablets had poorer short term memory
  • Your body stores more energy than your use



Just the last point alone – that your body stores more energy than it uses – has a massive impact on kids behaviour and attitude around the house!  I know if my kids spend an hour playing computer games then the next 30 minutes we cop grumpiness and foul moods afterwards!  This is one of the biggest issues I see in my parent coaching – that kids misbehave late afternoon / evening and it is often because they have spent too long on screens and haven’t burnt off their energy in a healthy proactive way after school!

I also saw an alarming documentary recently by the ABC in Australia on wifi – apparently the French government are so concerned re: the effects of wifi in children that they have banned any wifi from being in schools or preschools.   Wireless technology is so new that they don’t yet know the effects it can have on children – but they recommended turning off your wifi at night and keeping it well away from you – hard to do with a tablet or phone…but important information for us to have as parents!

Tips for healthy mindful screen use:

  • You own the wifi/modem – take control!  It can be your most powerful bargaining chip!
  • Negotiate Time Limits – (like budgeting)
  • Role Model – the l;atest reserach said the average adult checks their mobile phone every 6.5 minutes even without a notification – we need to turn it off and be present to our kids…
  • Set Screen Free Times e.g. Screen Free Sundays
  • PLAN AHEAD: negotiate what happens when the time is up!
  • CONTRACT: safe and responsible use & consequences
  • Docking station – for meals & bedtime
  • Get involved – know apps, games, social media –check in
  • Teachable moments… good and not good use of social media
  • Physical & Social time: daily physical outdoor & social time
  • Hobbies and Sport: fulfilled & interested in the world
  • Investigate a Net Nanny option – to ensure kid safe websites / browsing only



Our biggest rule which I’m so glad we started when the kids were younger was no screens in the bedroom – and all screens need to be docked in the living room at night – and just to be sure we also turn off the wifi or at times hide the modem!!  This way we can keep an eye on what they are being exposed to!   Our second biggest rule was NEVER give personal details away online or download anything without checking with us first!

We have also started Screen -Free Time on the weekends – where the internet is off except for 2 hours in the afternoon!  It’s just so nice to see the kids talk, play, get creative, go outside and be less moody – when the screens are OFF!  And it is so much healthier for us as adults too – to be screen-free means to be work-free and we can be more mindful – live in the present moment, connect with the kids or do things that are deeply satisfying…

One of my 12 year olds recently commented that being on a screen is like being on a Pokie machine – and it really made me think – it truly is like gambling!  If you watch anyone on their phone they have the same blank stare!    I read something recently that stated every like and notification we get on social media releases a little hit of dopamine – just like gambling – scary stuff!  And kids games are set up in the same way!  As recently stated on the Smiling Mind facebook page ‘ We do it (check notifications) to feel more connected, but it actually has the opposite effect, keeping us in a shallow state of distraction.’

So here is to more screen-free time – it automatically makes you more mindful, and more open to what is happening in the present moment!  It can feel strange at first – even making a whole morning screen-free – the first time we did it the whole family was itching…just as if we were gamblers….to get on to our devices!  It was as if we had forgotten that there is a whole world of stuff to do out there in the real world – including just being and hanging out with each other or reading a book!  We had to do lots of negotiating with the kids and we copped a bit of a backlash – but now it is routine I really enjoy our screen-free time!  We even had to talk to our kids about there being other ways to research your homework, find a recipe (heaven forbid there are recipe books still in our house!!! – our kids were shocked!) and that they could even PHONE a friend!!!

So good luck finding your new mindful screen – free times – I’d love to know what works for you and your family?


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