Parenting in a Digital World

By Susan CranstonSusan is in her second year as a volunteer on the Parent Involvement Committee (PIC). She is a mother of two daughters. Madeline, age 14, is a Grade 9 student at Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School and Sam, age 18, recently graduated Grade 12 from Kitchener Collegiate Institute.


“While technology is important, it’s what we do with it that truly matters” – Muhammad Yunus

Susan and her daughter Maddie

Susan and her daughter Maddie

Unlike me, my daughters are digital natives. They were brought up in the age of digital technology and are quite comfortable with computers, the Internet, tablets and smartphones. I often feel like it is a challenge to keep up with the latest games, apps and websites. Perhaps that is partially due to the fact that the world has made quantum leaps in communication, media and technology in the last few decades. With these rapid advancements, mobile technology’s presence continues to assume a larger foothold in our daily lives. As it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, I’m convinced it is more important than ever for parents and caregivers to develop a family media use plan in conjunction with common sense best practices that promote healthy digital media use habits.

How much time are we spending online?

Our consumption of digital media is growing. According to a 2014 study by comScore Canada, Canadians hold the top spot by spending an average of 36.3 hours online per month, which is higher than any other country in the world. Just in the time period from 2010 to 2014 alone, the average daily use of smartphones and tablets increased from one hour to five hours per day. North Americans adults spend an average of three hours online and four and a half hours a day watching television. (source: statista.com)

Digital world worries

Although I enjoy technology, I have mixed emotions about it. While many amazing learning opportunities and ways to connect exist, there are some scary aspects to parenting in a digital world too. It isn’t unusual for parents and caregivers to worry. I take some comfort in knowing that this tradition of worrying about kids and technology goes back centuries. In fact, Socrates was known to have fretted about children learning to write things down for fear that it might destroy their ability to remember. Among other things nowadays, parents worry about privacy issues, cyber-bullying, screen time, what their kids will encounter when downloading apps, playing online games and visiting websites, and whether technology will devour their child’s life.

My top five tips

Ironically, there are many free online resources to support parents looking for ways to keep their kids safe in a virtual world. I’ve included my top five tips for your consideration.

1. Talk to your kids – just as you would about where your kids might be going when they leave the house, consider taking the same approach with their online use. Ask them where they’re navigating and with whom they are interacting. Keep the lines of communication open and talk with your kids about how they are using technology. Chances are you’ll learn a lot in the process! Also, talk to other parents and engage with your child’s school to learn about policies and resources available to parents.

2. Create a family media use plan – By developing and agreeing to a family media use plan, you’ll foster a more positive experience with media and technology. The media plan should ensure that face-to-face family time, exercise, meal time and sleep aren’t displaced or compromised. You can learn how to make a plan at healthychildren.org or at pediatrictherapies.com.

3. Be a good role model – kids watch what you do. Be aware of your own media use to ensure you’re following the rules and norms you’ve agreed to for your family’s media use plan.

4. Limit digital media for the little ones – toddlers under the age of 24 months should not be exposed to digital media with the exception of supervised video-chatting with family. Those ages 2 to 5 should have no more than one hour of high quality programming that a parent is participating in to supervise the learning process. Check out media use guidelines for young children.

5. Monitor and limit screen time (“school up” on screen-time tools) – filter and monitor your kids internet usage. Be honest about it so that you’re not unintentionally harming your relationship. An example of a monitoring site is How Life Works.

No one said parenting was easy, but we do know that behind each successful student, is an engaged parent. Parent involvement includes developing skills to navigate technology’s benefits and challenges.

  • Susan Cranston

Parent Posts are written by parents, for parents in collaboration with PIC. This series features guest parent bloggers where they can share resources and information with other parents. We invite you to email and let us know if there are other topics you’d like to learn more about on Parent Posts.