When your child’s access and exposure to online interactions isn’t balanced with their demonstrated strengths and capabilities, stress, anxiety, and poor judgment can result.

Screen/life balance is important for all of us.  Too much screen time can interrupt sleep patterns; overwhelm and overstimulate us; and negatively impact our physical and mental health.

When we think about teaching our tweens about screen/life balance, we often focus on the development of good digital habits, like limiting the amount of time they spend on screens each day; keeping their phones out of their bedrooms; and encouraging offline relationships.  

But another key element to screen/life balance that is often overlooked is ensuring that our child’s access and exposure to online interactions match their demonstrated strengths and capabilities.  When kids take on more than they can handle, it can lead to anxiety, stress, and poor judgment.

Photo Credit: Sabine Sarikaya

What yellow flags should you look for when deciding if your child is ready for online interactions?

In addition to TDSU’s six signs of developmental readiness for online interactions, there are four signposts to look for when preparing your tween for their online life.  We like to think of these as “yellow flags” – they indicate that you may want to SLOW DOWN your child’s access and exposure to interacting online.

TDSU’s Four Yellow Flags

  1. Difficulty Transitioning: How does your child handle transitions? If you find that they can’t step away from their involvement with their device without a power struggle, this is a yellow flag.  Your child may need some support to develop their ability to self-regulate, specifically with impulse control and delaying gratification.  

Be curious.  Explore with your child why getting off their device is so challenging.  It might be that the game they are playing doesn’t allow the player to pause, meaning they risk losing all of their progress if they stop playing before completing a level.  Or maybe they don’t think they are being given enough screen time.

Work with your tween to come up with a way to address the issues as you both see them.  See if you can come to a resolution that you both find reasonable and agreeable.  Be sure to let your child know that there is always room for their independence to be increased as they demonstrate growth.

Scaffold your child by setting a timer for them that gives them a five or ten minute warning that their screen time is coming to an end.  Eventually you will help them transition to setting the timer themselves and monitoring their own screen time.

  1. Difficulty with Peer Relationships: Is your child involved in a lot of “friend drama”?  This yellow flag means that your child might need to work on their communication and self-advocacy skills, or that they are still in the early stages of developing the capacity to see things from the perspective of others and becoming less egocentric. 

Consider putting in place a Trusted Team, made up of people with whom your child can practice online interactions.  

Focus on the Thumbs Down skill of knowing when and how to disengage from Problematic Posts.  

Help your tween practice what to do when group texts start to get nasty with our Fire Drill  activity.

  1. Immature Problem Solving Skills: Is your child struggling with the ability to problem solve?  Over-reliance on the adults in their lives or not recognizing when they need help are both yellow flags. 

Don’t always rush to solve your child’s problems for them  – give them a chance to come up with some strategies to address the problem before you tell them what you think they should do.  Our Flip the Script activity is one way to practice letting your tween take the lead.  

When your child comes to you for help, acknowledge this developing strength.  Knowing when to ask for help is an important life skill, both online and off.

Make it easy for your child to know what to do if they come across something Disturbing, Disparaging, or Dangerous.  Use TDSU’s Create a Reach Out Plan to prepare your tween to be safe and responsible online.

  1. Lacking Introspection: Is your tween in the early stages of developing the ability to think for themselves?  If your tween is easily swayed by peer pressure or seems to have difficulty forming their own opinions, that is a yellow flag.  

Help your tween develop a sense of agency over their online interactions.  Introduce TDSU’s Circles of Consent and help them learn that they get to control who does or does not have access to them online.  

Is your tween asking for an app because “everybody else has it”?  Encourage them to do their own research and learn if the app is right for them. Let Your Tween Be Your Tour Guide  and have them show you what they’ve learned. Maybe you and your child each download the app, use it for a week, and then reconvene to discuss if it is appropriate.  It is also a good idea to find two or three other apps that serve the same purpose in order to compare them.  It is easier to develop your own opinion about things when you have information. 

Help your child be more thoughtful about why they pick up their device when they do with our Pulling a Habit Out of a Hat! activity.  Teach your tween that they can be thoughtful and intentional rather than reactive when interacting online.  Our activities that focus on learning to Pause Before Posting are a great way to work on this skill, like Serenade Before Sending or Get Permission Before Posting

Don’t just follow your kids online.  Lead them.