Digital Well-being Guidelines for Parents during the Height of Pandemic

Digital Well-being Guidelines for Parents during the Height of Pandemic

Since the spread of Covid-19, technology is becoming the primary source of communication among people around the Globe. However, this sudden increase in technology usage, either in the form of a laptop or cellphone, also increases the need for the digital guidelines to provide a healthy and safe digital environment. Recently, Centre for Humane Technology (CHT) has provided a list of guidelines that will help parents who are feeling overwhelmed trying to navigate the amount of technology used in their children’s lives and their own.

In any circumstances, we should be aware that many of these products are actually not on your side. The social media platforms that many parents and children use everyday profit by keeping us scrolling, clicking, and watching. The result is a system that creates addiction, self-obsession, misinformation, and content that outrages and polarizes. Children are experiencing some of the worst effects of this broken attention economy.

Following are the Digital Well-being Guidelines for Parents (Source: Humanetech)

Feel into It

Let’s be aware of not just our use, but how technology makes us feel.

Take the time to reflect on how it’s working or not working with your well-being. Ask yourself and your children not just “do you like X app or game,” but “how does this app or game make you feel, during and after use?” You might learn a lot through this exploration.

Questions to ask ourselves:

What thought, feeling, or impulse led you to pick up your device?

As you scroll through your feed, what kind of thoughts come up?

What kind of emotions comes up?

What happens to your breathing?

How does your heart feel?

Be ‘Why’s’

Make an effort to use technology as a tool instead of an end in itself. When using technology, let’s communicate the “why” to our children and ask them to communicate theirs.

“I’m picking up my phone to send your mom something she needs for her doctor’s appointment, I’ll put it down right after I send the message.” “I know I’m on my computer a lot today, but I’m working. This screen time is how our family puts food on the table.”

It’s hard to have a healthy relationship with technology, and you likely won’t be able to communicate or use it intentionally all the time. Admitting when we’ve fallen into the mindless rabbit hole is not only okay but can also set a good example of sharing honestly and acknowledging the difficulty.


Questions to ask ourselves:

Why am I reaching for my device?

How is this technology really enhancing my life?

Is this technology serving as a successful substitute for something lacking during the pandemic (i.e. exercise or education)?

Am I being a tech role model?

When I am mindlessly using technology, am I taking ownership of that with my family?

All Screen-Time Is Not Equal

The tools that measure our screen-time consider all screen-time equal, but what’s happening on the screen is much more relevant than the screen itself.

Instead of trying to remove all screens from our lives, consider the type of activity you and your children are doing on screens. For example, creating or being in the conversation is often better for well-being than passively scrolling or consuming others’ content.

Drawing and making dance videos are creative acts, but they are quite different from posting these creations online and repeatedly checking how many likes/comments each creation received. The latter can turn into “slot-machine” behavior, which is riskier for mental health.

There is also a difference between two or more people looking at one screen and working together (i.e. games like HQ and Heads Up) and an individual scrolling in isolation (i.e. Candy Crush). The former is more like getting together to play a board game.

Questions to ask ourselves:

Am I engaging in “slot-machine” behaviour? e.g. Endlessly scrolling for the occasional emotional reward? Repeatedly checking my likes to see how many there are, or who liked my post?

What values is this content/game teach?

How can I use what I am consuming as a source of inspiration for creating something of my own?

What am I learning?

What is my reason for posting? How would it feel if no one likes this?

Remember, Tech is a Trade

What are we trading for convenience and/or connectivity?

For example, with Google Maps we’re trading our location data for navigational convenience, and most of us are comfortable with that trade. Other times it takes a lot of reflection to recognize the deeper trade-offs. For example, we may be trading our time and peace of mind for seeing what others are posting, the trade is more than just being exposed to advertising. We also might be trading spending time on something that’s harder to do (like exercise) for being entertained. When a phone is involved, we’re often trading our mental presence in the room where we are physically for whatever is happening on screen. The people in the room can feel ignored and “less important” than what’s happening on the screen, which can be especially hard for children to experience from their parents.

Another example: When we’re in a conversation, and we don’t know the answer to a question such as “Who’s the actor from that movie…?” we could use technology to look it up. If we did, we’d know the answer, but in doing so we’re trading the process of working together to figure it out, the laughs from wrong answers, and reflected memories. If we can recognize the trade we’re making, we become able to act more intentionally.

Questions to ask ourselves:

What am I losing as I’m gaining this convenience? Is it worth it?

Is this time well spent?

What’s the non-tech way to do this thing I’m doing right now? (e.g. journaling or meditating without an app)

How does my own tech as a parent use make my children feel?

Get Proactive

Tec If we’re not intentional about how we spend our time, tech will take the reins for us. For example, instead of spending (distanced) time in nature, accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves, and talking/having video calls with friends and family, we get sucked into our phones without meaning to. Consider making a time management plan at the beginning of each day, week, or month, and helping your kids do the same.

“Based on the latest research, I recommend that children, teens and their parents sit down together and actively approach their 24-hour day as valuable time to be used in ways that support a healthy lifestyle.

Thinking of their day as an empty glass, they should fill it with the essentials; enough sleep to grow and avoid getting sick, school, time to spend outdoors, play, socialize, do homework, and to sit down for one meal a day together as a family (perhaps the single most protective thing you can do to keep their bodies and minds healthy). Once these activities are totalled, the remaining time can be used for other experiences that interest the child, such as the activity in question (Minecraft, Fortnite etc.)”

– Dr Michael Rich, Harvard University

Questions to ask ourselves:

Did I connect with the people I wanted to this week?

Did I put the effort and energy into the work, play, social time, activities, and sleep that I intended to dedicate myself to?

Is my current time management strategy working for me and my family? h is not neutral. It is vying for our attention and is very good at grabbing and holding it.

Protect Developing Brains

As parents, it’s good to be honest with ourselves: Are our children using tech for their benefit or for ours, such as getting work done or catching a breath? If it’s really for our benefit, that’s ok – managing parental stress is a huge part of parenting in a pandemic! But also try to encourage kids to play by themselves or with a sibling not using a screen, so screens aren’t the only default.

When we are using Zoom, FaceTime, or other technologies to replace a lack of socialization, remember that young children are likely not going to be able to sustain a video chat very long. So if they’re missing their friends, maybe gather them for a story hour where they can see their friends and answer questions about a book but the focus isn’t on one-on-one interaction. Another option, instead of expecting a preschooler to carry on a video conversation with a grandparent for a long time, is to have the grandparent watch the child play and perhaps comment on what he or she is doing from time to time—just as they would if they were actually in the room. For more on developmentally appropriate advice, The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood has a great resource.

Questions to ask ourselves:

Is this screen time really for them or for me?

Are we creating screen-free zones and times in our home?

What kind of call or online socializing should we engage in?

We are using and relying on technology more than we ever dreamed we would, but it’s important to remember that children’s brains are still developing and can literally be shaped by technology and media. Learn More

Be Skeptical

Use the products and devices that have a significant and clear positive impact on what you’re trying to accomplish. When you’re adopting something new, rather than assuming it’s immediately better, check-in along the way to see how it’s going for you.

Remember that many social media products are trying to get you hooked on sharing information about yourself. They make billions of dollars by analyzing your data and your behaviour with powerful supercomputers, selling those insights to advertisers who want to sell products to you and your friends. The advertisers are the real customer, and unfortunately, you are the product being sold to them. Remind yourself and your kids of this. Help your kids notice what addictive techniques these apps use.

Questions to ask ourselves:

How is this going to improve my life?

What value does this bring me as a human being?

What skills might I be giving up as I use technology to do this?

What personal information am I comfortable posting, considering it could be sold to advertisers?

How are the apps and services I use trying to keep me as a user?

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