A Guide to Kids’ Digital Well-Being

By Taíno Bendz

Resource parents and kinship caregivers play a vital role in guiding and protecting the children they care for. In today’s digital age, social media, online bullying and excessive screen time pose unique challenges for children affecting mental health, physical health, learning development, their ability to focus and how they form relationships.

Children might already have harmful digital habits in place when they enter your home, which can impact your efforts to create a supportive environment. Here are some practical strategies and actionable advice to safeguard children against the potential harms of digital technology and promote digital well-being and tech-life balance.

Establish Open Communication and Expectations
Whether you read this before welcoming a child into your family, or if you’re already a caregiver, establish your baseline with the child. How are they using digital technology? Do they have a smartphone? Do they use social media?

If so, which platforms and how? Ask open-ended questions without judging to understand their experience. What positive and negative experiences have they had while online?

Building trust and open lines of communication with children is essential. Encourage them to share their experiences, concerns and interests regarding the digital world — and share yours, too. By creating a safe space for dialogue, you can gain valuable insights and better understand their online experiences.

Educate on Internet Safety
Teach children responsible internet use, the importance of privacy, and the potential risks associated with social media. Explain the concept of consent and how to identify and handle online harassment or inappropriate content.

Encourage them to think critically about online information and remind them to be cautious when interacting with strangers online.

Just like in the analog world, they need to have the possibility to make new friends, and each family needs to draw their own line and find a balance between caution and limiting over-protection.

One way can be to start with only friends and family that they already know, and when they make new acquaintances online, tell the parent, just like in the analog world when meeting a new friend.

Set Clear Boundaries and Follow Age Guidelines
Just as you do in other areas of parenting, establish clear guidelines regarding screen time limits and the appropriate use of devices.

A key is to collaborate with children to set realistic expectations and rules that align with their age, maturity and specific needs. Remember to be flexible and adjust these boundaries as necessary while ensuring a balance between screen time and other activities.

Not many people know there is an age limit on social media platforms, most of them 13 and older. Consider if/how you want to follow these guidelines.

Lead by Example
Children learn by observing their caregivers, so it’s crucial to model healthy digital habits. Show them how to use technology responsibly by practicing moderation in your own screen time, engaging in offline activities and maintaining meaningful connections outside of the digital realm.

Encourage Offline Activities
Promote a balanced lifestyle by encouraging children to explore hobbies, engage in physical activities and interact in person with their peers.

Provide opportunities for creative play, sports, reading and other stimulating activities that help their overall well-being.

Implement Screen-Free Zones and Times
Designate specific areas or times in the home where devices are not allowed, such as during meals, family time or before bedtime.

This creates an environment conducive to healthy communication, bonding and relaxation. Make sure you follow them too!

Evaluate Regularly
Discuss openly with your child how they are experiencing their device use and share your thoughts. Do you need to make changes? By involving them and making them understand, you can create good buy-in.

Encourage Critical Thinking
Help children develop digital literacy skills by teaching them to critically evaluate online content. Teach them how to fact-check information, recognize fake news and discern between reliable and unreliable sources.

Encouraging them to ask questions and seek different perspectives fosters critical thinking skills vital in the digital world. Hopefully these skills will stay with them even if they are not in your care.

Monitor Online Activities
Regularly monitor the online activities of children, especially younger ones or those who are new to digital platforms. Engage in open discussions with them about their online experiences, friends and the content they encounter.

Foster a non-judgmental atmosphere that encourages them to share their concerns or seek guidance if they encounter troubling situations online.

Address Conflicts and Red Flags
Conflicts may arise when children are required to disconnect from screens. Approach these situations with empathy, understanding and patience.

Help them understand the importance of balance and the benefits of alternative activities.

If red flags, such as excessive secrecy, withdrawal or mood changes, arise, seek professional guidance to ensure their emotional well-being.

There are many things resource parents and kinship caregivers can do and there are many online resources to support you. The most important thing is you realize that digital well-being is an important area to consider along with your other valuable supporting activities.

RESOURCES TO CHECK OUT

  • Common Sense Media: Nonprofit organization providing expert reviews, objective advice, helpful tools, and a lot more about kids and technology; www.commonsensemedia.org

  • Center for Humane Technology:A nonprofit organization working to educate about the attention economy and drive a shift toward technology that supports wellbeing and democracy; www.humanetech.com

  • Healthy Screen Habits: Nonprofit that educates and empowers families to create heathy habits for screen use; www.healthyscreenhabits.org

  • Non-tech activities for kids: www.mothermag. com/100-screen-free-things-to-do-with-kids-at-home/

  • Safewise:Various resources focused on online safety; https://www.safewise.com/resources/internet-safety-kids/

 

Taíno Bendz is an author and the founder of the non-profit initiative Phone Free Day. His message on mindful and intentional technology usage has reached and inspired hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He is a public speaker, workshop facilitator and conducts research on digital technology usage. Bendz earned a master’s degree in industrial engineering and management and has spent the last 10 years working in technology sectors such as renewable energy, healthcare IT and software automation. He currently lives in Sweden with his partner and two young sons.