We turned to Janice Ebenstiner, a child and family therapist at Kerrisdale Counselling Services in Vancouver, for some tips to help ensure your children are spending online time in a healthy and safe manner.
1. Keep your kids socially active offline
A huge part of the development process of a child involves creating connections and developing a sense of belonging and self, Ebenstiner explains. However, she's also careful to point out: "Although many modes of technology may appear to offer a sense of social connection, support and inclusion, there is also a false sense of community in using online chat rooms, Facebook or MySpace forums for social networking," she says. "Children of all ages require face-to-face social experiences that involve an interpersonal depth that does not exist online."
Keeping your kids active in sports, the arts and other offline social and recreational groups will not only promote the development of healthy in-person relationships, it will also help reduce the risk of overusing technology, the therapist explains.
Talk to your children about reasonable limits for using social media and precautions for its use. "Internet access should be monitored by parents and limits of use should be based on what other responsibilities a child has and ensuring these are attended to prior to spending hours online," advises Ebenstiner.
"Most parents set a limit between one and two hours per day, outside of use for homework. This time frame seems to promote a balance between active and sedentary activities and leaves time for face-to-face socialization or recreational activities," she says.
Ebenstiner also suggests setting aside technology-free family time where checking text or e-mail messages is not permitted by anyone – at mealtimes, for example. She also suggests keeping the computer in a common area of the home so that parents are able to monitor how much time is spent online and what kinds of websites their children are visiting. If these limits are set in place at the onset of technology use, they become the norm and are more readily enforced, she explains.