Episode 39: Managing Digital Devices

Episode 39: Managing Digital Devices

Episode 39: Managing Digital Devices 1920 1080 Catholic Parents Online

Episode 39: Managing Digital Devices

Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviours.

How can we help our children manage devices?

We address these questions and propose guidelines for parents to help children manage devices in a safe and responsible way.


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We have touched on the management of screen time. Here we discuss a very closely related topic — how we can help our children manage their use of devices.

As we have shared before, “Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviours.”

How can we help our children manage devices safely?

As always, the first thing we must do is to have a good relationship with our children, namely, affirming them and building in them a good sense of self-esteem, making it a point to be there for them, providing a warm and conducive environment for honest and open communication, and forming them in the virtues, such as temperance, fortitude, and prudence. These were discussed in episodes 7 to 17.

Good Servants

The overarching principle in managing devices is this — we want to manage devices in a way that will make them good servants, not bad masters. We should be in control of our devices, not the other way around. And always within reasonable limits and never harming the good, dignity and well-being of ourselves and others. Whether it is for leisure, education, work or connection with others, we use them in a way that can help us become better persons, and facilitate a deeper communion of persons with others.

The bottom line, therefore: devices can be used for good or for bad. The choice is ours to make. Take a knife, for example. It can be used for good in helping us cut food for cooking and fruits to eat. It can even be used to heal when used in surgery. But it can also be used in a way that can harm or even kill ourselves and others.

How then would we introduce our children to using the knife? Would we let our infants and toddlers touch or play with it in any way? No way, right? Even as they grow older, we would teach them and guide them about its uses and dangers before we let them use it, and even then, in a supervised and calibrated way. We would only let them use a knife independently once they have shown themselves to be able to do so safely and responsibly.

It is the same with digital devices. In fact, the part of our brain that is responsible for the ‘higher’ brain functions including decision-making, problem-solving, emotion regulation and impulse control, the prefrontal cortex, is thought to be properly developed only at around 23 to 25 years of age or so, which means we can be considered more or less mature around that age.

Quick Tips

With the above in mind, here are some tips on the management of devices. These are just some guidelines for your consideration. As parents, you would probably be best placed to know when and how to implement the measures needed.

  1. Avoid using a digital device as a babysitter for children. Children below the age of 18 months of age should not be given recreational screen time.
  2. Avoid using digital devices to calm children, as this can lead to problems with the child’s own ability with setting limits as well as processing and managing emotions.
  3. Set up clear rules and time limits on media usage. The younger they are, the less access. A child’s brain develops rapidly during the early years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.
  4. Always praise and encourage self-control when children demonstrate it.
  5. The younger our children are when using devices, the more we should be supervising them.
  6. Avoid giving primary schoolchildren personal mobile devices with internet access. You can be sure their teachers will be able to reach you anytime if they need to. At this stage, we should try to sit down with our children when using devices, teach them how to use these responsibly, and help them learn the skills and strategies they need to do so. This will help them prepare for the time when they can have their own devices as they grow older.
    Even if they do need phones with internet access for school purposes, say for chat groups, and we are not comfortable with letting them have a smartphone or other device all to themselves, we can consider letting them use one of our own, at certain periods of time, and to which we should have access as part of accountability. After all, the device does belong to us. It can then be returned by a certain time and kept with us for the night.
  7. When it comes to family rules for managing devices, it is good for us to explain to our kids in age-appropriate ways, that our main objective is not to restrict them, but to help them. Explain the reasons behind the rules, so they don’t seem so arbitrary. You may want to share with them stories of how others have been hurt badly by improper use of devices and social media, such as becoming victims of cyberbullying, sexting and so on.
    Now when it comes to enforcing the rules, both parents must be consistent — and consistent too in meting out disciplinary measures when these rules have been broken, for example, implementing time out from using devices if they have not been used responsibly.
  8. Once they enter secondary school, we may consider providing our children with a mobile phone, but with the following considerations:
  • start with dumb phones with no internet access. If they need internet access, they can use the computer at home, during the designated times for such use. In this way, they can also develop temperance and learn how to use their devices in a measured and responsible way.
  • Once they show us that they are responsible with the use of their devices, we can over time gradually let them use phones with internet access.
  1. Place computers and tablets in common and prominent spaces in the house, in full view of and frequented by other family members, such as the living room and the dining area. Do not allow devices to be used in children’s own rooms.
  2. Be firm about device-free times in the family, for example, at mealtimes, during family activities, and so on. I have heard of families that go for walks in the park or outings to the beach without their mobile phones, to ensure that their attention will be on each other and not on their devices. Some have even instituted device-free days such as Sundays so that they can focus their attention on other important aspects of life, such as church, family outings, and personal reflection time. Some parents even designate a time in the evening when all members of the family, including themselves, put away their devices in a common area, so that from that time on, they are not distracted by these.
  3. Protect our devices. We will discuss the various ways and levels of protection.
  4. Be good role models for our kids when using our devices. Monkey see, monkey do. Our children learn best from the example we give.

Finally, remember to pray always and entrust our children and our endeavours to our Lord. Without Him, we can do nothing right; neither can our children.

Let us ask ourselves: are we ourselves in control of our devices, or are we controlled by them?