Digital Well-Being Guidelines

Girls happy with technology

In this unprecedented time, technology has become part of our social fabric in a deeper, more intimate way than ever before. For many of us, technology has been a social lifeline. Unfortunately, our increased reliance on technology doesn’t diminish the challenges and dangers it poses.

Instead of trying to remove all screens from our lives, consider the type of activity you and your children are doing on screens. For example, creating or being in conversation is often better for well-being than passively scrolling or consuming others’ content.

Drawing and making dance videos are creative acts, but they are quite different from posting these creations online and repeatedly checking how many likes/comments each creation received. The latter can turn into “slot-machine” behavior, which is riskier for mental health.

If we’re not intentional about how we spend our time, tech will take the reins for us. For example, instead of spending (distanced) time in nature, accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves, and talking/having video calls with friends and family, we get sucked into our phones without meaning to. Consider making a time management plan at the beginning of each day, week, or month, and helping your kids do the same.

I recommend that children, teens and their parents sit down together and actively approach their 24-hour day as valuable time to be used in ways that support a healthy lifestyle. Thinking of their day as an empty glass, they should fill it with the essentials; enough sleep to grow and avoid getting sick, school, time to spend outdoors, play, socialize, do homework, and to sit down for one meal a day together as a family (perhaps the single most protective thing you can do to keep their bodies and minds healthy). Once these activities are totaled, remaining time can be used for other experiences that interest the child, such as the activity in question (Roblox, Tiktok, etc)

Useful Reflection Questions

  • Why am I reaching for my device?

  • How is this technology really enhancing my life?

  • Is this technology serving as a successful substitute for something lacking during the pandemic (i.e. exercise or education)?

  • Am I being a tech role model?

  • When I am mindlessly using technology, am I taking ownership of that with my family?

  • Am I engaging in “slot-machine” behavior? e.g. Endlessly scrolling for the occasional emotional reward? Repeatedly checking my likes to see how many there are, or who liked my post?

  • What values is this content/game teaching?

  • How can I use what I am consuming as a source of inspiration for creating something of my own?

  • What am I learning?

  • What is my reason for posting? How would it feel if no one likes this?

  • What am I losing as I’m gaining this convenience? Is it worth it?

  • Is this time well spent?

  • What’s the non-tech way to do this thing I’m doing right now? (e.g. journaling or meditating without an app)

  • How does my own tech as a parent use make my children feel?

  • Did I connect with the people I wanted to this week?

  • Did I put the effort and energy into the work, play, social time, activities, and sleep that I intended to dedicate myself to?

  • Is my current time management strategy working for me and my family?

  • Is this conversation best for text or should I call or FaceTime this person?

  • Do I want to share this with everyone on social media or a select few?

  • How long did it actually take to have that text conversation, and how much was my attention interrupted in that time?

  • Is this digital environment working for me or my family?

  • Is this screen time really for them or for me?

  • Are we creating screen-free zones and times in our home?

  • What kind of call or online socializing should we engage in?

  • How is this going to improve my life?

  • What value does this bring me as a human being?

  • What skills might I be giving up as I use technology to do this?

  • What personal information am I comfortable posting, considering it could be sold to advertisers?

  • How are the apps and services I use trying to keep me as a user?

As parents, it’s good to be honest with ourselves: Are our children using tech for their benefit or for ours, such as getting work done or catching a breath? If it’s really for our benefit, that’s ok – managing parental stress is a huge part of parenting in a pandemic! But also try to encourage kids to play by themselves or with a sibling not using a screen, so screens aren’t the only default.

When we are using Zoom, FaceTime, or other technologies to replace a lack of socialization, remember that young children are likely not going to be able to sustain a video chat very long. So if they’re missing their friends, maybe gather them for a story hour where they can see their friends and answer questions about a book but the focus isn’t on one-on-one interaction. Another option, instead of expecting a preschooler to carry on a video conversation with a grandparent for a long time, is to have the grandparent watch the child play and perhaps comment on what he or she is doing from time to time—just as they would if they were actually in the room.

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