As earlier stated, digital amputation is not a solution. Teaching our kids healthy media habits is critical. This requires action on behalf of schools, parents and health professionals, which in turn requires learning and upskilling because parents and educators are the first generation of raising and working with digital natives. Put simply, you don’t know what you don’t know. Raising and teaching kids in the digital age is new terrain that we’re (as educators and parents) trying to navigate (and often we’re trying to figure this out on the fly and on the backfoot.)
Here are some simple ideas that you can implement at both home and school to encourage kids to balance their screen- and green-time.
// Plan unplugged times
Specify times of the day when screen won’t be used. We have to establish clear lines of demarcation, so our kids are not always gravitating towards their screens. We need to help enforce digital breaks. At school, have designated lessons or times of the day that will be tech-free. At home, having clear cut-off times at night time and mandating ‘landing zones’ where devices go at night is also critical. Jocelyn Brewer, a psychologist calls this a ‘digital sunset’.
// Nominate tech-free zones
Families and schools need to preserve tech-free zones. Places and spaces where digital devices do not go, at any time. In homes, I recommend bedrooms, meal areas, play spaces and cars. At school, teachers need to intentionally plan places where devices won’t go, so kids can experience some respite from the omnipresence of screens. This enables them to have dedicated places where their attention and concentration won’t be constantly sabotaged.
// Schedule green-time
It sounds strange to need to prioritise time outdoors, but it’s critical. Opportunities for incidental physical activity (like walking to school) has declined over the years. As a result we need to actively plan when our kids will unplug and enforce these limits. Schools also need to provide nature-based learning experiences and opportunities for outdoor learning.
// Implement a Media Management Plan
When kids intentionally plan when they’ll use screens they’re much less likely to constantly resort to digital devices out of habit. Schools and families need to have clear and realistic media plans, where students clearly know what, when, where, with whom and how digital devices can be used. This type of planning, whilst it sounds formal and time-consuming, helps to establish very clear boundaries and expectations around when and where screens can be used. Student input and involvement is critical as these plans will have limited effectiveness if students feel that they’re simply being imposed on them.
// Repeat, repeat, repeat
We know that any behavioural change takes time. Kids’ neural pathways develop through repetition. This enables habits to form. So we cannot simply teach them these skills in one lesson, or have one conversation with them at home and tick the box that we’ve addressed their digital habits. These habits take time to develop and require repetition.
Dr Kristy is a leading digital wellness expert (and Mum!) who’s on a mission to take the guesswork and guilt out of raising and teaching kids in the digital world. Kristy is an author, speaker and researcher and speaks to parents, educators and health professionals throughout Australia and internationally. She delivers teacher professional learning workshops and parent seminars in schools throughout Australia about how children’s digitalised childhoods are impacting their health and wellbeing. She delivers a practical workshop specifically designed for educators called Healthy Digital Habits where she provides simple, practical strategies for primary and secondary teachers to help them develop healthy and helpful technology habits with students (without digitally amputating our kids). You can find more information about the topics Kristy presents at www.drkristygoodwin.com