What is Digital Wellness?: Nurturing a Healthy Relationship with Technology

Monday, June 26, 2023

In today's digital age, where technology plays an integral role in our lives, it's really important for parents and guardians to understand the concept of digital wellness, whether or not you consider yourself a techy! I get it, there's a lot of adults out there who worry about tech because they don't understand it all. That's ok! Digital wellness is something anyone and everyone can grasp and put into practice, from tiny kiddos to adults. While digital safety, the most talked about topic, focuses on protecting our children from online dangers, digital wellness goes beyond that, encompassing the overall well-being and balance in their digital lives. In this post, I'll explore what digital wellness entails and why it is just as important as digital safety, so that you can start talking to your tweens and teens about it ASAP (and even start working on it for yourself!). By incorporating mindful practices into our children's digital experiences, we can empower them to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime. 

Understanding Digital Wellness

Digital wellness refers to the intentional and mindful use of digital technology to promote well-being, balance, and positive engagement. Think of it like any other mindful practice you incorporate into your lives: yoga, meditation, journaling, walking, exercise, painting, etc, it just happens to focus on the digital world. It involves developing healthy habits, fostering a positive online presence, and maintaining a healthy relationship with technology. Digital wellness goes beyond mere screen time limits, app monitoring, or safety measures and focuses on nurturing a holistic approach to the digital world.

Differentiating Digital Wellness from Digital Safety

While digital safety primarily revolves around protecting children from online threats (which are important, don't get me wrong!), digital wellness takes a more comprehensive approach. Digital wellness addresses not only the physical safety aspects but also the mental, emotional, and social well-being of our children in the digital realm. The two REALLY need to be taught hand in hand. They shouldn't be separate concepts, but more of a well-rounded, comprehensive concept. Digital wellness recognizes the potential negative impacts of excessive screen time, ergonomics, and online stress while emphasizing the positive benefits and mindful use of technology, such as global connection and fostering interests.

Importance of Digital Wellness

Digital wellness is essential because it equips our children with the skills and knowledge to navigate the digital landscape responsibly, maintaining a healthy balance between their online and offline lives. By fostering digital wellness, we empower them to make informed decisions, develop self-regulation, build positive relationships online, and manage their digital footprint effectively. We teach a lot about specific apps, age limits and online concerns, but a lot of it is fear based. With technology here to stay, they need to be equipped with all media literacy skills to help them combat issues which may arise.

Practical Strategies for Promoting Digital Wellness

Open Communication: This one is my favorite and it really changed things in my own home with my tweens and teens. Create an environment of open communication where your children feel comfortable discussing their digital experiences, challenges, and concerns. Encourage them to share their online activities, platforms they use, and any online interactions that may have had an impact on them. It took a while for my kids to realize I was truly interested in their lives, their friends and what goes on in that device. I now know a lot more thanks to them sharing with me, but I had to create that circle of trust.

Set Clear Boundaries: Establish clear guidelines and boundaries for technology use within your family. Encourage designated tech-free zones and screen-free times to promote healthy habits and quality family time. This is NOT easy, and I'm not pretending it is! I've got three teens, and they live in an online world. I know that sounds sad, and "online world", but it's true. It's not bad, it's just different than how I grew up. However, here I am, connecting with all of you online too! The boundaries has been our biggest hurdle, mostly because of how emotionally driven that conversation can be. They don't yet see it, nor the impact, and they really don't want to hear directly from their parent about it. But, we're the adults, and boundaries are there for a reason.  They'll get it later.

Model Healthy Digital Behavior: Be a positive role model by demonstrating responsible and mindful technology use. Show your children that you prioritize offline interactions, engage in a variety of activities, and practice digital detoxes when needed. Put your phone upside down, if not away when you're together with other people or your own family. Turn off your notifications so that you're not drawn to your phone in the middle of conversations. Take your own digital breaks throughout the day.

Foster Media Literacy: As a teacher, this was something I became very passionate about, especially since I taught in a 1:1 device school. I see the importance and value of technology. But it's really important that we educate our children about media literacy to help them critically evaluate information, recognize online manipulations, and make informed decisions. Teach them to identify reliable sources, question biases, and think critically before sharing or engaging with content.

Encourage Digital Balance: Help your children strike a balance between screen time and other activities. Encourage them to pursue hobbies, engage in physical exercise, spend time outdoors, and foster face-to-face connections. I know, I know...easier said than done, especially with teens! Change is hard, especially for those of us who maybe didn't have boundaries in place, and we feel like it's too late to change behaviors. It's not! But it has to be a family effort at this point, and it has to come from a place of really helping them, not shaming them.

Digital wellness is not just about keeping our children safe online but also about nurturing their overall well-being in the digital world. By prioritizing digital wellness alongside digital safety, we can help our children develop a healthy and mindful relationship with technology. Through open communication, setting boundaries, modeling healthy behaviors, fostering media literacy, and promoting balance, we empower them to make responsible choices and navigate the digital landscape with confidence.

Remember, digital wellness is an ongoing journey, and it requires continuous engagement and adaptability. By implementing these strategies and staying informed about current digital trends and challenges, we can equip ourselves as parents and guardians to guide our children effectively. Let's embrace digital wellness as an essential aspect of parenting in the digital age and support our children in building a positive and healthy digital future.

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