12 Ways to Keep Your Children Healthy in the Digital Age
New report helps parents manage the benefits and pitfalls of smartphones.
Posted May 21, 2018
According to a newly published report by the Global Wellness Institute, Wellness in the Age of the Smartphone, “Whether we like it or not, whether we feel confident that we can deal with the change or not, this technological revolution will disrupt everything in a trend that is inescapable. Its scale, speed, breadth and complexity will be unlike anything we’ve experienced before.”
While parents struggle to imagine how mobile devices will change their children’s social, emotional, physical, and future work lives for better or worse, children growing up in today’s Digital Age cannot imagine a world without those devices.
How to reconcile this growing divide has become an increasingly important topic for researchers. Yet studies cannot keep up with the pace of accelerating changes in technology, according to the report. In many ways, researchers are swimming upstream, attempting to adapt without enough information on the prevailing currents.
Most researchers agree there are benefits and pitfalls of smartphone usage, but there is not global agreement on just how technology will change the lives of future generations. In this new 29-page report and review of the research, good information can be gleaned for parents. While there is much uncertainty on how technology and smartphones will impact human development, the latest data suggests intelligent ways to keep your children and teens healthy in the Digital Age:
1. Manage screen time.
When parents manage screen time for kids, they help children discover other healthy ways to find meaning in life. Kids create a balance between interacting with technology and developing real-life relationships with humans.
2. Promote physical activity.
A growing body of research shows that excessive screen time contributes to the inactivity and obesity crisis in today’s youth. Learn how nature fosters happiness, and encourage your children to be physically active.
3. Monitor mental wellness.
Researchers have associated the growth of social media and technology use with rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Parents who are well-informed about childhood trauma and the symptoms of mental illness can act more quickly to help children in need.
4. Practice stress-reduction.
The Global Wellness report says, “the biggest challenges to mental wellness appear to come, not from the technology itself, but from the added pressures and pace of life in the digital age.” Children are always accessible, responsive to their peers, and use social media to compare themselves to others. When parents introduce kids to mindfulness meditation and various techniques for stress-reduction and relaxation, they can boost their children’s health and well-being.
5. Foster peer friendships.
It is easy to imagine that social media increases connectivity and friendships for children. However, there is a growing sense of loneliness in today’s children and teens. Parents should encourage children to become involved in shared activities that provide social interaction in real time.
6. Use online health resources.
There is now a wealth of health information available online for parents to investigate health symptoms of concern and learn about prevention. One such database is the Mayo Clinic Symptom Checker.
7. Explore wellness apps.
Wellness and exercise apps help promote healthier lifestyles for children and parents. Many can be shared, making learning and fitness fun and more challenging.
8. Set rules for bedtime.
There is growing evidence that digital devices in bedrooms deter children and adolescents from the sleep they desperately need. Establish rules that the whole family will follow, leaving devices to charge elsewhere overnight.
9. Talk about distraction and safety.
When smartphones are in use, it takes attention away from other things. Young drivers are at much higher risk of driving while distracted. Children should understand that their health and safety come first, before technology.
10. Discuss the difference between productivity and technology.
Research from the Global Wellness report suggests that advances in technology have not coincided with increases in productivity. In fact, productivity in most developed countries has declined with the advent of smartphones. Some believe that smartphones enhance our daily lives, not necessarily our efficiency to get things done. Children's productivity and achievement are still driven by becoming goal setters, and learning how to commit to an outcome while seeking feedback and support.
11. Talk with kids about digital ethics and citizenship.
As children grow into adolescence, families should talk about and set guidelines on the following: What kind of personal information is shared online? How do children communicate online? How do they debate important issues? How do they become good digital citizens? A few resources include the SafeKids.com Family Contract for Online Safety Parents’ Pledge and Kids’ Pledge.
12. Cultivate and nurture the human spirit.
As technology rapidly advances, real-world human experiences are declining. Encourage your children to play, create, be curious, and dream. Join tech giant Tristan Harris in his new venture at the Center for Humane Technology to reverse the digital attention crisis and realign technology with humanity’s highest calling.
McCarthy, J., Bauer, B., Sood, A., Limburg, P. J., Goodin, T., & Malleret, T. (2018). Wellness in the Age of the Smartphone. Retrieved from Global Wellness Institute: https://www.globalwellnessinstitute.org/global-wellness-institute-blog/2018/4/10/new-report-wellness-in-the-age-of-the-smartphone