July 19, 2022
From the home to the classroom and into the workplace, our children will rely on technology for learning, creating, and playing—which is why it’s so important to instill healthy online habits early on.
We know that tech can enhance life and education when used appropriately, though it can also cause damage when used in unhealthy ways. Teaching our children digital wellness is key to helping them succeed and thrive in their digital worlds, which they can only do by learning to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy technology use.
Digital wellness is the ability to take a mindful approach when interacting with technology, use digital tools safely and responsibly, and to care for physical and mental health in digital environments. Here are five ways that teachers can teach digital wellness in the classroom, and instill in their students the importance of mindfulness when using technology.
Today’s students are considered digital natives, but that doesn’t mean they instinctively understand the concept of healthy technology use. Although young children pick up digital skills quickly, they still need guidance on how to use technology in emotionally and mentally healthy ways.
Teachers can bring the concept of digital wellness to the forefront by having open, transparent conversations with students about technology use. Talk to your students about the consequences of spending a lot of time online, such as the impact of blue light on sleep patterns.
Prompt self-reflection through strategic questions: Has anyone noticed a difference in their sleep when they use devices before bed? How do you feel after using specific apps or websites? Do you feel different when using technology for school, and for personal use?
Ask them how the time they spend using devices makes them feel, and why. One study found that 54% of teens feel they spend too much time on their cell phones. Rather than simply lecturing or enforcing limits on tech in the classroom with no explanation, asking open-ended questions can be a good way to encourage a dialogue and get students thinking about their own relationship with technology.
When speaking to students about digital wellness, embrace a positive perspective. While it’s important to discuss the negative impacts of extended screen time on sleep, focus, and mood, there’s a reason that technology is prevalent in schools, work, and personal life: it’s useful!
Language is incredibly important - teachers know this better than anyone - and so the way in which the conversation around healthy technology use is framed will impact how responsive students will be. Rather than focusing only on “shouldn’ts” and “restrictions,” approach discussions with an angle of empowerment. Talk about both the benefits of using technology, and the benefits of spending time offline. Discuss the issue not just from the perspective of less screen time, but more positive online experiences.
Ask students to reflect on what feels good about using tech. What draws them into their devices and apps? What makes them want to keep playing a game or browsing a feed? What makes them want to stop? On the other side: what feels good about spending time offline? What do they like to do that doesn’t involve technology?
Children today are growing up in a world where online and offline are seamlessly blended; those born into the Gen Z generation don’t use the phrase “In Real Life” the way millenials and Gen-Xers do. Helping your students embrace a positive mindset toward both the online and offline aspects of their life — and see how these two sides are connected — is crucial for digital wellness.
Teachers are well-positioned to take a proactive approach to helping students get involved with offline activities, because the classroom provides so many opportunities to “practice” digital wellness.
For example, during class you may enact device-free periods — spans of time where you have students set their cell phones to “do not disturb” for an individual study period or group activity. This may be a good opportunity for discussion afterwards, to reflect on how they felt while their phones were silenced. For young students, consider having your class participate in mindful breathing exercises, stretching, or light yoga as a group after using technology for learning activities.
Consider setting a 5-10 minute timer for “device breaks,” during which students are free to check their phones and use social media until the timer is up. On the flip side, ask your students to submit ideas for “wellness breaks,” during which they will do an offline activity. Throughout the day, you may alternate between device breaks and wellness breaks to transition between activities.
Reducing screen-time is always a healthy goal, as many children are already spending far more time using screens than the recommended amount by experts.
Challenge your students to track their hours of screen time during a week and be mindful of how much time they spend in digital settings. You may institute a classroom competition, or prizes for students who decrease their average weekly screen time by a certain amount. (You may even join them in this to make it more relatable!)
Consider implementing an app challenge, where students refrain from using their favorite personal use app for a whole week. This can be a good prompt for a discussion or journaling exercise afterwards.
Additionally, it’s important for you to set a good example for healthy boundary-setting when it comes to technology use. Model healthy technology habits and set goals and expectations for academic performance that don’t lead students down the path of unhealthy technology use.
As an educator, you play a unique and meaningful role in working alongside parents to guide their children into adulthood. Digital wellness extends far beyond the classroom, and parent involvement is key to helping students build a lasting, healthy approach to technology use.
Send home informational guides for parents around setting limits for online activities, recommendations for popular apps their kids use, encouraging offline activities, and using parental controls on devices. Help educate parents about the impact of extended screen time, the importance of digital wellness, and the benefits of balancing online with offline time.
Ask parents to support their children in a goal to cut back on screen time, or to co-lead a “device-free dinner” challenge for one week at home. If your school uses content filtering or online monitoring technology, send information home to parents about how these tools work, the benefits, and how they keep their children safe.
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