Digital Wellness for Kids:
Active vs. Passive Consumption
March 10, 2023
As technology continues to become an integral part of our kids’ daily lives, it's crucial to prioritize digital wellness for kids and students in schools, as an addition to the digital citizenship programs that are already established in many. The problem I see, however, is that the conversation about technology and device use often centers around "screen time" and how much time young people spend on their devices. In fact, that’s the number one question I get in every parent session I lead, “how many hours should my child be on a device?” While it's essential to monitor and manage screen time up to a certain age, it's equally, if not more important, to shift the conversation towards understanding passive versus active consumption and engagement, and what digital wellness is. For this post, I’ll be focusing on this notion of screen time, and not all screen time is created equal. How our children are using devices is really the question that should be asked.
Passive vs Active Consumption
Passive consumption involves mindlessly scrolling through social media, watching TV shows or movies for hours on end, or playing video games without any critical engagement or creativity. It’s really easy when there isn’t any friction to help us stop! Have you noticed the “autoplay next episode”? If we don’t turn off the autoplay feature, it’s easy for the content to just keep coming! In contrast, active consumption and engagement involve using technology for a purpose, such as learning, creating, and connecting with others.
To shift the conversation towards active consumption and engagement, we can focus on providing young people with opportunities to use technology for a purpose, such as creating content, connecting with others, or learning new skills. This can involve integrating technology into classroom activities, encouraging students to participate in online discussions or projects, and promoting the use of technology for educational purposes. There are A LOT of apps out there in education right now. Many are for practice, like skill and drill. I’d be cautious of how your child is using them. Is there friction built into the app, or are they being taught how to reflect using that tool? For example, when a math or literacy problem is incorrect, are they taught how to stop, read the suggestions for next time, and reflect on their own learning, before moving on?
We need to discourage passive consumption at school and at home, and help young people develop healthy habits around their technology use. We can do this by encouraging breaks, promoting alternative activities like outdoor play or creative projects, modeling healthy technology habits ourselves, and using some of the ideas above for active engagement.
One of the most significant challenges our children face is finding the right balance between technology use and their lives, especially when everyone has an opinion on the subject (clearly I do, I’m writing about it!). The lure of social media, online gaming, and streaming platforms can lead to excessive screen time in general, passive or active, which CAN have negative effects on our physical and mental health, including obesity, sleep deprivation, anxiety, and depression. I struggle with this one a lot. My son is a gamer. I struggled with it until I started reading research for BOTH sides of the argument, and found out that there’s a lot of positives that come out of gaming, and it CAN be an active process for the brain, depending on what he’s doing. This is a must read page collated by Primary Technology for Learning Coordinator John Mikton! John is also passionate about helping parents and educators understand and leverage technology in meaningful and productive ways. You can hear more from John on his website, https://beyonddigital.org/, and follow him on Twitter at @jmikton.
I also came across this chart by Dr. Bobo Blankson, which really put gaming and social behavior into perspective for me.
Firstly, it's important to educate kids and students about the effects of excessive screen time in general on their health. We can do this by emphasizing the importance of physical activity and good sleep habits, as well as introducing the concept of passive vs. active tech use. I provide resources on my website that can help with this, such as printable activity charts, tips to keep handy and a tiny habit tracker.
Secondly, we can teach them about the importance of digital wellness and what that encompasses, such as taking care of our mental and physical health. We can encourage kids and students to take breaks from technology and engage in non-digital activities. My website provides a range of resources on this topic, including printable Bingo cards for kids and adults, mindfulness apps, and interactive activity ideas.
In conclusion, prioritizing digital wellness for kids and students in schools involves shifting the conversation from screen time to passive versus active consumption and engagement. By encouraging young people to engage in active consumption and providing them with opportunities to use technology for a purpose, we can help them develop critical thinking skills, creativity, and digital citizenship. And by discouraging passive consumption and modeling healthy technology habits, we can help them develop healthy habits around their technology use. As Kristy Goodwin emphasizes, it's not about demonizing screens, but about using them in ways that support children's learning and development. My website provides a wealth of resources and information on this topic, and I encourage you to explore it and make use of these resources to promote digital wellness among young people.
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2021). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 69(1), 97-103.
Hutton, J. S., Dudley, J., Horowitz-Kraus, T., DeWitt, T., & Holland, S. K. (2020). Associations between screen-based media use and brain white matter integrity in preschool-aged children. JAMA Pediatrics, 174(1), e193869.
Goodwin, K. (2020). Digital Nutrition: Raising Balanced Digital Kids. Kristy Goodwin.