Good Digital Parenting While Staying At Home

Stephen Balkam
March 17, 2020

The past several weeks have turned the world on its head. Our households, communities, nation, and world are experiencing rapid change in a way we’ve never seen before. We’ve found ourselves amidst a global pandemic and a national emergency, struggling to keep up with fear, uncertainty, and countless impacts to our daily lives.

Many schools and businesses are now closed, and parents have instantly become responsible for homeschooling kids while adapting to working remotely themselves, or desperately seeking childcare. Everyone is doing their best to keep up with almost hourly developments at the national, regional and local levels while still taking care of their families.

One thing we know for certain is that our kids are looking to us to know how to make sense of it all. With so many of them at home and spending more time on devices for news, schoolwork or distraction, now is a vital time to start creating structure and new routines for the weeks, or even months, ahead.

Pulling out three of the “7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting” as a guide, let’s look at how to build a foundation for responsible tech use at home, and some ways to make this coming period as tolerable, safe, and creative as possible.

Talk With Your Kids

Be sure to talk with your kids openly and directly. In the scramble to come up with contingency plans, it can cause anxiety for kids to simply overhear what is happening, rather than hearing it directly from you. Set aside some dedicated time to sit down with your kids and explain what the changes to their social lives and educational schedule will look like. This creates a natural opportunity to also reset the rules of the house around how, where and when digital devices will be used.

Engage them in the discussion, ask them questions, and get their views about what is a fair amount of time to be on their screens - while bearing in mind that online classes and assignments may require them to use laptops, tablets or phones more frequently.

Emphasize balance by ensuring that time is also set aside for non-screen activities, outside time and exercise. Be open and direct, and stay calm. As the saying goes, “If you lose it, they won’t get it.”

Set Ground Rules and Enforce Consequences

Re-establishing rules is always easier when you make it official. If you don’t already have an online family safety agreement, now’s a great time to start, setting clear parameters about what is and is not acceptable online behavior. Ask your kids what they think is fair and involve them in the process. They will be much more likely to accept and abide by the rules if they’ve been given the responsibility of helping to create them.

As important, ask them for their ideas about what the consequences should be if they (or their siblings) break the rules. Once an agreement is set, ask them to sign it and then post it on the fridge or bulletin board for all to see and refer to when things go wrong. Add additional requirements (and privileges) for these trying and challenging weeks ahead.

Be a Good Digital Role Model

Even if you have unexpectedly found yourself working remotely, find ways to curb your own worst digital habits. Stay rational and kind in your own online interactions, and approach this new system of virtual work and school with enthusiasm. Show your kids that you are willing to prioritize balance - to be able to unplug, take a break from the news, and give them your undivided attention. Consider some concepts like establishing tech-free spaces or tech-free time zones in your home, demonstrating that you can know when and where to put down your own devices.

Revisit these ideas as many times as it takes to get it right for your unique household, and use your best judgment. Be willing to relax certain rules when the situation calls for it in order to preserve everyone’s sanity.

The uncertain period of time ahead will challenge us all in ways we can’t yet imagine. The coronavirus has upended our daily lives in ways that were unthinkable just a week ago. Be compassionate to your kids, and yourselves, as you all navigate these challenges together. If we can keep our heads, stay healthy and demonstrate good habits - online and off - we will teach our kids an invaluable lesson about resilience: the art of recovering from difficult and challenging circumstances.

Further free resources you can find on our website:

Online Safety Device Cards

Navigating Social Media

The Complete 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting

Written by

Stephen Balkam

For the past 30 years, Stephen Balkam has had a wide range of leadership roles in the nonprofit sector in the both the US and UK. He is currently the Founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), an international, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC. FOSI’s mission is to make the online world safer for kids and their families. FOSI convenes the top thinkers and practitioners in government, industry and the nonprofit sectors to collaborate and innovate and to create a “culture of responsibility” in the online world.

Prior to FOSI, Stephen was the Founder and CEO of the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA) and led a team which developed the world’s leading content labeling system on the web. While with ICRA, Stephen served on the US Child Online Protection Commission (COPA) in 2000 and was named one of the Top 50 UK Movers and Shakers, Internet Magazine, 2001.

In 1994, Stephen was named the first Executive Director of the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC) which created a unique self-labeling system for computer games and then, in 1996, Stephen launched RSACi – a forerunner to the ICRA website labeling system. For his efforts in online safety, Stephen was given the 1998 Carl Bertelsmann Prize in Gutersloh, Germany, for innovation and responsibility in the Information Society and was invited to the first and subsequent White House Internet Summits during the Clinton Administration.

Stephen’s other positions include the Executive Director of the National Stepfamily Association (UK); General Secretary of the Islington Voluntary Action Council; Executive Director of Camden Community Transport as well as management positions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London) and Inter-Action. Stephen’s first job was with Burroughs Machines (now Unisys) and he had a spell working for West Nally Ltd – a sports sponsorship PR company.

Stephen received a BA, magna cum laude, in Psychology from University College, Cardiff, Wales in 1977. A native of Washington, DC, Stephen spent many years in the UK and is now has dual citizenship. He writes regularly for the Huffington Post, appears often on TV and has appeared on nationally syndicated TV and radio programs such as MSNBC, CNN, NPR and the BBC and has been interviewed by leading newspapers such as the Washington Post, New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, radio and in the mainstream press. He has given presentations and spoken in 15 countries on 4 continents.