Digital wellness for families. What is it and how can we achieve it?

My digital wellness begins when Fortnite ends. I can feel it whenever I don’t have to explain to my eight-year-old son, over and over again, why I don’t like him playing Fortnite. Why I feel it’s not a good game, why I don’t want him to renew the subscription, and what he could do instead of playing it or complaining that everybody does except him. And, dealing with the guilt for having given into his prayers.

But, you see, I am wrong. After attending a Digital Wellness meetup hosted by The Digital Wellness Warriors at the Tech Festival in Copenhagen, I’ve reconsidered my thoughts about what digital wellness means. And it’s not related to a specific game the kid loves and mom hates and all the negotiation in between. If it weren’t for Fortnite, it would have been another game, or YouTube, or an app, or tv.

Digital wellness refers to all habits related to using technology: how, when, how much, what kind, for what purpose and how aware we are about what we are doing with it. If asked, we all have the same goal: maximize advantages and minimize risks. Are we really doing it, though?

Breathe in, breathe out, and read the highlights that might inspire you to pursue this.

  1. Digital wellness starts with parents, not kids

To help children use technology more mindfully, and to accept and understand the need for restrictions, parents should start to practice them first. It’s a simple, healthy exercise to become aware of how many times (really, count them!) we check our phones in a day (or feel the need to). Check whether it’s the first thing we do in the morning or the last thing at night, see how much screen time we have, and how many times we stop an activity to check social media.

And if it’s too much (and usually it is), opt for several intentional tech practices to improve our behavior: less social media, fewer photos on a trip, no email checking after work and so on.

Only after that can we think of a strategy for our children. “It’s all about creating healthy habits for yourself and then show these healthy habits to your children.  Practice what you preach. Because if they see you are doing it, it’s much easier for them to hear you. Because, you know, sometimes people tell their children: ‘You’ve been playing for hours, you have to stop now.’ And children respond – ‘but mom, you’ve been on your phone for hours, too!’”, says Nina Hersher, the owner and founder of Nourishing Habits™ Wellness Company, a resource center providing digital wellness counseling and educational seminars on best practices in productivity and self-care. Nina is also co-founder of Digital Wellness Warriors, an organization consisting of 50+ people from various areas, seeking to enhance human relationships by supporting the intentional use and development of technology.

  1. Use parental control apps as tools, objective guardians for subjective habits

When introducing a new rule, Nina also recommends parents be clear from the beginning about what is going to happen; when they are allowed to use it, when they are not, what it is for. “When we teach our children about inner regulations and about how to control our emotions, it can be much harder. They don’t know what to expect in the beginning. There are apps where you can set a timer for how long they are allowed to use the device and those are helpful tools, because it’s something electronic that reminds them time’s up and not you. It’s objective; it said it is over, so that’s it, you go and play outside,” adds Nina.

I asked Nina what she thinks about parental control apps.

“I think we cannot solely rely on them. I think we, parents, have to set the rules ourselves and then use them as additional tools. It is up to us to show people what healthy habits are. Especially with children, you need to make a plan so they can look forward to other activities. At the same time, sending them outside to play is important as children don’t have to expect to be entertained all the time and need to be OK with not having anything specific to do all the time.”

  1. Focus on technology that can be used for good, educational purposes.

We can’t, and shouldn’t, ban technology from our children’s lives, especially when the world requires them to be tech knowledgeable. But we can help them choose better and use it for positive purposes.

For example, a pilot program for colleges in USA, initiated by Susan Reynolds, uses a texting platform to send students messages and challenges about how to deal with the overstimulation and addictive nature of 24/7 connectivity.  Simple daily exercises had a positive digital detox effect and increased the feeling of happiness within the community.

Apps for good” is an organization in the UK that connects students who work together to solve world problems with technology. More and more local projects involve coding, robotics and programming, and enrolling in one of them might shift the paradigm from time “spent” online to time “gained” online.

And we should acknowledge the irony here: we are in the process of digitalizing everything while complaining about it, and then we use technology to cope with technology.

Nobody said digital parenting was easy.

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