Although I’ve lived my career at the intersection of technology and education, it wasn’t until my wife and I became parents how unprepared we were to help our children thrive in an increasingly digital world.

We’d repeat the same things to them, with most of the statements just focusing on screen time. But these statements didn’t always deliver the message we wanted.

The way we talk to our children about technology use can have a huge impact on their ability to become intelligent and versatile adults. After years of researching how to moderate children’s screen time, I discovered how the most successful parents help their children find balance.

Here are four common Screen Time instructions they don’t use – along with examples of what to say instead:

1. “You are addicted to your cell phone.”

This statement may be the most common of all, but it is a confusing message to a child.

In most cases, it is not the device itself that is addicting, but a specific app or website that, with constant use, can create an imbalance or even an addiction.

To rephrase this statement, state what the real concern is. Is the problem that your child is not participating in activities in the physical world that you think are important?

If so, instead of communicating that you have a problem with the time they spend on one device, you are formulating a compelling reason to do something else.

Examples of reformulated statements:

  • “It looks like you haven’t had any practice today.”
  • “I noticed that you haven’t spent any time with your family since you were in school.

2. “You have been playing this game for too long.”

This statement also focuses on the time your kids spend on a single digital activity. And it’s problematic because it doesn’t address what’s wrong with the activity.

You might even find that if you watched a movie – even on a screen – for the same two hours, you probably wouldn’t say anything.

The digital balance reframe requires parents to evaluate the qualities of the game. If you think the game has less value than other digital activities, give that up a call.

Examples of reformulated statements:

  • “It seems like this game is getting more attention than it deserves as it is mostly based on repetition and luck.”
  • The above statement could lead to a conversation about the value of various apps installed on the device and whether they get a better return on the attention invested. Parents might ask something like, “What other activities would you like to do with the time you spend on your phone today?”

3. “Stop sitting around the computer all day.”

This is particularly confusing news when the suggestion for a substitute activity is to read a book.

It turns out that reading a book is even less active than using a device. I’m not saying that reading is not a good activity for a child to find balance in this moment. It’s just that the stated “stop sitting around” reason makes no sense to a child offered an alternative activity that involves just as much sitting around.

It is also entirely possible that your child read a book on their device at all. The goal is to be as specific as possible about why you think the activity is out of whack.

Examples of reformulated statements:

  • If there is concern that they are not spending enough time reading, this is a great conversation. You could discuss the importance of ensuring that there is reading time on or off a device at some point during the day.
  • When it comes to physical activity, reframe is less about not using the computer and more about finding the right time to go for a bike ride or run.

4. “You have to interact with real people.”

Telling a child to “pick up the phone to hang out with” is a statement that makes no sense to someone who is in touch with more people on their phone than if they are not on the phone.

One of the main advantages of participating in the virtual world is that we can interact with a wider variety of people than in the physical world alone.

Again, parents must first ask themselves what feels like being out of balance.

Examples of reformulated statements:

  • “Your family wants the opportunity to hang out with you too.”
  • “It’s also good to have some face-to-face interactions with your friends.”

Both examples could lead to a conversation about the right balance between virtual interaction with friends and family and face-to-face interaction, which is essential for developing healthy social interaction skills.

Richard Culatta is the author of “Digital for Good: Raising Kids to Thrive in an Online World” and CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a non-profit organization serving education leaders in 127 countries. Prior to joining ISTE, Richard was named Head of the Office of Educational Technology at the US Department of Education by President Barack Obama. Follow him on Twitter @RCulatta.

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