At HomeKate Sheppard
Fostering a healthy relationship with technology is important at home and in school.

As screens and technology become increasingly ubiquitous in our everyday lives, it is vital that we find ways to co-exist with them that are both healthy and sustainable over the long-term. For kids especially, who are introduced to technology from a young age, it’s important to encourage moderation and instill a sound relationship with devices. In this article, we’ll be covering the risks involved in too much tech exposure, the importance of digital wellness for students and four ways that parents and educators can encourage kids to build a healthy and sustainable dynamic with the technology in their lives.  

The Impacts of Tech Overload  

Constant exposure to technology—and screens in particular—can affect our wellbeing in a variety of ways, both physically and mentally. Overuse of screens can lead to difficulties with our emotional health, social connections, and productivity. From a neurological perspective, obsessing over technology is comparable to chemical addictions, where the expectation is followed by a reward that releases dopamine in the brain. Over time, we begin to crave this dopamine release and may even need increased stimulus to get the same effect. This is why establishing a healthy relationship with technology and focusing on digital wellness from a young age are so critical.    

Studies have shown that due to increased screen time, kids and teens have lowered levels of physical activity, spend less time outdoors, and have higher sedentary behavior, which have contributed to a rise in the inability to concentrate, disrupted sleep cycles, and irritability. While it’s unrealistic to cut digital tools out completely, striking a healthier balance is possible to improve our well-being. In fact, it is essential.     

The Importance of Digital Wellness for Students 

When we talk about digital wellness, we’re not simply referring to dramatically reducing screen times and tech exposure. Rather, digital wellness refers to a holistic approach that encourages an intentional and balanced relationship with technology and digital media. It seeks to minimize the downsides of exposure to technology while augmenting the potential benefits through education and a deeper understanding of the impacts of tech on our personal lives. Practically, digital wellness can manifest in different ways, like identifying harmful habits (i.e., endless scrolling), setting boundaries for technology use (i.e., no screens before bed), and building digital literacy.   

4 Ways Encourage Digital Wellness for Students 

Here are four reliable strategies that parents and educators can use to encourage digital wellness for kids.  

1. Manage Notifications  

Notifications are one of the biggest challenges when it comes to limiting screen time. From breaking news to messages and likes, there’s always something popping up on our screens to divert our attention and shift our focus back to our phones and laptops. Many of us feel as though we need to respond to these notifications immediately, but research suggests that it takes over 20 minutes to regain focus once you’ve become interrupted.   

Fortunately, there are ways to control how notifications are received. For example, you can alter the settings on your kid’s phone or computer to silence pop-ups, or you can rely on distraction-blocking tools to mute notifications at certain times. This extra degree of separation from screens can have immediate benefits like increasing time spent with family, on homework, or on hobbies.   

A person holds a phone with various notification bubbles around it.

2. Lead by Example  

Parents and educators alike should lead by example when trying to promote digital wellness in the next generation. If you are constantly on your smartphone around kids, they will be more inclined to follow suit. Whereas, taking time out of each day and diligently trying to spend time together without devices will help set a standard they can follow.  

There are many ways to set a good example, whether it’s not using screens around the dinner table or setting aside time in the evenings to discuss the day’s events, it can be a welcome break for the mind to step away from devices, even if only for an hour. In other words, try to model the same boundaries and regulations that you want your kids to follow.   

3. Use a Digital Toolkit    

While it might seem counterintuitive to turn to tech to help improve digital wellness, digital toolkits tailored to kids’ screen use can be highly effective. These digital toolkits can consist of many different tools, including parental controls, screen time management, content blocks and filters, device tracking, social media monitoring and more. In short, these tools help parents regain some control over what their kid is doing online and can keep them away from harmful content that exists on the internet.  

Ultimately, investing in a digital toolkit can help families get the most from their screen tech without it becoming all-consuming, and helps to encourage better parent-kid relationships.  For example, using digital safety tools can allow parents to set controls to keep kids safe online and provides a starting point for conversations about healthier tech usage.    

4. Take the Games Offline  

Hands-on activities can help draw kids away from screens organically and allow for more of their senses to be engaged. There are diverse options for offline games and entertainment, ranging from organized sports to board game nights. The goal is to find things for youngsters to do that don’t center around screens, which will ultimately encourage a more balanced relationship with tech.   

A board game.

Play-based learning with screenless technology can also be a compelling option for improving digital wellness from a young age. For example, the Sphero indi, a programmable robot car, helps kids between pre-kindergarten and second grade learn the fundamentals of programming and coding through color-based commands. The Sphero BOLT, a versatile coding robotic ball suitable for kids eight and up, can also encourage kids to appreciate technology by helping them learn about STEM and explore their creativity in a productive way. Crucially, these types of hands-on tech activities provide a bridge between kids’ offline and online experiences.  

Striking a Balance

Ultimately, digital wellness is not about vilifying technology, it’s about figuring out how to use it properly and in ways that bring benefits. By fostering a healthy relationship with tech, we can empower the next generation to mitigate the downsides of too much exposure and make the most of the digital tools and devices around them. For more on how to integrate technology productively in kid’s play and education, see Sphero’s activity resources.

At homeAt school