Digital Wellness, Media Mentor Month and Global Day of Unplugging

March 3, 2023

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How Digital Wellness Started for Me

There was a time where I focused heavily on digital citizenship. I had three kiddos in elementary school, and I struggled as a parent to find boundaries, or make sense of all the research I was constantly being bombarded with. I used OurPact for all three of them, for years, just cutting them off, setting schedules or blocking apps! As part of my journey, determined to be as educated as I could on the topics of screen time and digital citizenship, I became a Common Sense Educator, which led to me being a Common Sense Ambassador for years. I trained the staff at my school on what digital citizenship meant, we mapped it out in our Program of Inquiry using Common Sense lessons and concepts, and we successfully got nearly 100% of our staff recognized as Common Sense Educators. 

However, somewhere along the line, I began to realize that it wasn’t just digital citizenship that I wanted the school, or my own family, to adopt. I wanted to go deeper, more meaningful, and I was running out of time as my own kids were now in middle and high school. It was the concept of digital wellness that I was looking for. I stumbled across a certification program a few years ago, and there I began my journey on educating myself and becoming certified as a Digital Wellness Educator. As a Common Sense Ambassador, and a Digital Wellness Educator, I finally felt like I had the necessary tools to really talk about these topics with my staff, parents, students and my own children. And so began my advocacy for something I find so meaningful when it comes to our kids.

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Why Digital Wellness?

Digital wellness is just as an important concept as digital citizenship, that I strongly believe all schools and parents should be aware of. It refers to the intentional and healthy relationship we build with the technology we use, the ability to use technology in a balanced way, and staying mindful of the potential negative effects it can have on our mental and physical health. Just as we teach our students to be reflective in learning, so should we teach them how to reflect on their digital media consumption. In today's digital age, I strongly feel that it is more important than ever for schools to prioritize the teaching of what digital wellness is and the healthy habits they can create when using technology. All too often the conversation stops with digital citizenship and how to act appropriately online, or how to respond to harm, or banning use all together, focusing on the “being scared” to be online. 

While digital citizenship is absolutely an important concept, I think the balance in the message is missing, and because of that, we’re getting the overuse of words like “addiction” and “screen time”, without really understanding what they mean, or if they’re even true! I’ll discuss more on that in another post. We need to create the bridge to digital wellness, to see how we can use technology for the greater good while maintaining our own mental health. Digital wellness differs from digital citizenship in that it focuses more on the individual and their relationship with technology, rather than just the responsibilities of being a good digital citizen. While digital citizenship is about using technology responsibly and ethically, digital wellness is about taking care of oneself while using technology. Craig Kemp, global authority on EdTech and Co-Founder of EduSpark adds the following:

"As a Head of EdTech and Digital Learning in a large American International School in Singapore, one of the biggest challenges I faced was around digital wellness and strategy. The greatest thing we did to solve these challenges and problems was to develop a digital wellness strategy, led by Heather. We linked the strategy to the ISTE standards, guided teachers one small step at a time and educated parents in parallel so that the learning happening with teachers and students at school was matched by parents at home. Empowering our entire school community and showing this was important led to greater integration of resources, tools and conversations that helped our students and teachers in their digital wellness journey.”

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Digital Wellness in Schools

What better way for kids to understand forming positive tiny habits, than to learn about them and practice them in school, where many are now 1:1 device schools. It’s the perfect opportunity for someone other than mom or dad to bring their attention to their digital habits and address the changes that could, and should, be made. We know social media is here to stay, so why not learn how to use it for inspiration, lifting someone up, promoting the good in the world? Let’s change the conversation from ‘Get off your phone!’,  ‘You’re wasting time online!’, ‘I’m monitoring you’ and ‘You’re addicted!” to something more productive, more meaningful, and one that will get your children talking to you about what they do online! I think you’d be surprised at how much our kids have to say about their online world.

In my last school, I had started a CCA (co curricular activity) after school simply called Digital Citizenship. I had grades 3-5 in one session, and grades 6-8 in another. It was great, and really let kids share ideas freely, learn while having fun, and feel like it was a club rather than a lesson being forced during school time (which often come across as monotonous and kids tune out). While the CCA was a hit, and ran that way for two years, I needed, and wanted, something more for the students. That’s when I started the Digital Wellness CCA. I focused on grade 5 students, as due to the pandemic, I was only allowed to teach the grade level in which I worked. But, that was ok! The conversation was different than in my digital citizenship CCA. They were truly engaged, really reflecting, and taking into account all of the information I was giving them, relating it to their own lives, sharing examples and thinking of opportunities. We covered everything from wearables to phubbing to the “bottomless bowl” concepts, mental health to starting tiny habits.  They were learning how to take screen breaks by using certain exercises, and actually using them in the classrooms! So much excitement was being had that the most often statement made by the kids was, “I am SO teaching my parents this because they need it as much as I do.” I realized that we had created a positive conversation around technology, and they felt safe and supported to do so. It was brilliant. We connected, and they were listening. 

Moreover, prioritizing digital wellness in schools can help students build essential skills such as digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving, which will serve them well in their future academic and professional pursuits. That is what solidified it for me. Digital wellness was where it was at in schools, and it needed to start early. Since then, I  turned my CCA into adult versions, hosting webinars for Common Sense and Cognita, and even teaching others teachers via EduSpark. I now run digital wellness boot camps for adults and children, and have come up with scope and sequences for K-12, vocabulary, school digital wellness inventories, book lists, etc, all because I believe in it so much. Craig reflected on where we were and where we are now in the world of EdTech:

“Now, 4 years later, I look back at the work we did and understand that there is more to a strategy than the implementation of tools and ideas. It takes a whole community and leadership to buy in to get true and sustainable momentum. I see the success of the program in one part of the school but not others, and the clear reason for this was leadership buy-in and support. 

As you think about the work you do in your school, think about the people around you that can lift you up and shout from the rooftop WITH you. These are the people that will help create a movement and ensure it is sustainable and makes a difference in the lives of the entire community.”

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Tips to Open the Conversation

Media Mentor Month #mediamentormonth

One way that parents and schools can promote digital wellness is by participating in Media Mentor Month. This annual event started by the amazing Keri-Lee Beasley, a high school Learning and Tech Coach, takes place throughout the month of March. It’s simple really. As a family, individual, or class, take time to learn about the positive way we can interact with technology and create balance…digital wellness. Media Mentor Month provides daily prompts to try, and hopefully use to reflect upon and open the conversation between kids and adults. This year, Keri-Lee has versions for middle and high school students, in addition to the elementary versions we’ve seen in the past! ​​

keri-lee beasley media mentor month elementary
keri-lee beasley media mentor month middle school high school

Media Mentor Month has been gaining momentum over the years, and other schools around the world have been joining in and creating prompts for their communities to get involved. Here’s an example from Frankfurt International School, where EdTech Leader Jamie Stark rallies his community!

Media Mentor Month is just that, mentoring, cheering on and promoting healthy habits around technology use, which is especially important for children who are still developing their relationships with technology. Additionally, by participating in Media Mentor Month, parents and educators can begin to open the conversation with their students and children, while actually using some apps or seeing what they do online. 

Global Day of Unplugging

This year’s Global Day of Unplugging is happening now! From March 3rd-4th, due to the global time zones, people all over the world will participate in this mindful and purposeful initiative. Take some time, get your friends and family on board, and try to be conscious about your interactions with technology for 24 hours (or even try to ditch it for 24 hours!). The goal is not to say go cold turkey and say goodbye to your phone, it’s to bring awareness to our habits and triggers during this time period. They provide lots of ideas for you to do during this break! (This post was previously scheduled in order to be offline today!)

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Final Thoughts

Overall, digital wellness is an important topic that should be a priority for schools and parents. By promoting healthy habits around technology use, opening the conversations with kids, and participating in events like Media Mentor Month or my boot camps, we can help our children develop healthy and balanced relationships with technology, and set them up for success both in school and in life. Please reach out to me if you would like your child to participate in a digital wellness bootcamp, or if you yourself are interested! We’re in this together!

“If you ever need help in this space, look no further than Heather - her experience, expertise and genuine passion to make a difference with digital wellness in schools is incomparable!” -Craig Kemp


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