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Today’s parents are raising digital citizens. Contrary to popular belief, digital devices are not solely responsible for all the mental health problems that kids and youth face today. But the constantly evolving digital landscape does present an additional challenge for parents to factor it in as an attribute to mental health problems.
It is irrefutable that technological advancements offer numerous educational and social benefits, but they also present unique challenges for managing child mental health. I am not a mental health professional, but I am a career technologist and a mom to two growing boys. My goal with this article is to provide a guide that helps to provide parents, educators, and caregivers with practical strategies and insights to navigate the digital age and promote positive mental well-being for children.
As we continue to adapt to the evolving digital age, here are five strategies that can create healthy digital habits for children and support their mental health.
Adolescence is a time to enrich social-emotional skills. So, young adults need more authentic in-person interaction in order to develop these skills, which can go a long way in preparing them for success in their job interviews, academic careers, and personal relationships. Setting time limits for screens can help them find opportunities during the day for more face-to-face social conversations.
Establish screentime routines such as ‘device-free mealtimes’ and ‘no screens right before bedtimes’ to help children disconnect and recharge. Developing consistent routines for using devices play a crucial role in fostering healthy habits and teaching children the importance of moderation. The goal is not to remove screens from the daily itinerary but find a balance so that children get ample time for homework, leisure, and family activities.
Kids today are growing up in an era of screens, voice-operated devices, and Artificial Intelligent driven systems. Keeping them away from these devices will cause more harm than good. Instead, foster an environment where children feel comfortable discussing their online experiences, concerns, and feelings. Open communication enables parents and caregivers to better understand the challenges children face in the digital world and provide guidance on how to cope with potential stressors, such as cyberbullying or social media pressure.
To promote open communication, initiate conversations about digital experiences. You do not always need to wait for your children to come to you with their concerns. Share your own challenges that you might have faced and lean into them to provide your children strategies to cope with online challenges. Your job as parents is to remove shame from any conversations about online habits or experiences. Kids need to feel safe to come to you for guidance rather than never finding help or worse, depending on unreliable sources for help.
Empower your children with the skills and abilities to navigate the digital landscape safely and responsibly. Talk to them about privacy settings and the risks of sharing personal information online. Teach them how to evaluate the credibility of online sources, recognize cyber threats, and manage their digital footprint. This will help them make informed decisions and protect their mental well-being when engaging with online content. Just like how you would prepare your children to drive a car and give them the knowledge to navigate difficult traffic roads, you should help your children navigate the online world as well.
Incorporate online research while discussing science, engineering, history or other pedagogical subjects. Encourage children to build a hybrid learning model by helping them find digital resources and applications that can supplement their knowledge learned from books and schools. Introduce them to different sources both online and offline to help them analyze diverse perspectives, and draw well-reasoned conclusions.
Promote activities that happen in real life. It’s one of the key strategies to ensure that children are not filling up every free hour during their day with online activities. Numerous activities like sports, creative arts, and outdoor play can provide opportunities for reducing stress, personal growth, and create a sense of belonging with peers. Additionally, engaging in shared activities like board games, hiking, and park-picnics with family and friends can strengthen emotional bonds and provide much needed support and encouragement.
Remember that it is all about maintaining balance between online and offline activities. So, encouraging children to engage in activities that promote social connections outside the digital realm can create healthy digital habits. Parents and caregivers play a pivotal role in nurturing these offline habits thereby contributing to a well-rounded upbringing that supports children's mental health and prepares them for a fulfilling life with and beyond the screens.
‘Worry not that the children are not listening to you, worry that they are watching you’, goes an old adage. The best way to influence children’s behavior is to be their role model in practicing healthy digital habits. While you are setting screentime habits for your family, make sure that the children are part of the conversation, they are more likely to follow them if they help you create those rules. Once the rules are set, follow them and do not make yourself an exception to the rules. Practice what you preach.
Parents and caregivers can set an example for healthy digital habits by being mindful of their own screen time, prioritizing face-to-face interactions, and demonstrating responsible online behavior. By modeling balanced and responsible digital usage, adults can help children develop a healthy relationship with technology and minimize the potential impact on their mental health. Serving as a positive digital role model not only influences children’s digital habits, it fosters trust and open communication between you and your children. This goes a long way in giving them the confidence to look to you for help when they face challenges navigating the online world.
Managing children’s mental health requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the potential risks as well as the rewards of the online world. Following these strategies will help children become more discerning consumers of online content. It may seem daunting to parent children and helping them navigate the digital landscape but with careful, consistent, and continuous practice, you can ensure that children can leverage the benefits of technology while safeguarding their own mental-health and emotional well-being.
Promoting healthy digital habits is one of my life’s work which is why in my writing classes I talk about the benefits of leaning into technology for research and resource gathering. Want to learn more about our writing classes? Check us out here.
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