Updated: Mar 29
Do you have students who spend time on the internet or social media every single day? If your answer is yes, you should think about pausing to take stock of their digital wellness. This is precisely what happened in 2019 when Hilliard City Schools in Columbus, Ohio, dedicated February as Digital Wellness Month. The idea came to the school district's Chief Technology Officer, Rich Boettner. stating that while dining at a restaurant with family, "virtually every single person in that restaurant was sitting with their families or friends, but they weren't talking to each other and instead were looking at their phones."
Boettner's story is not unique, particularly for the behavior of our younger generation. A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, with 45% saying that they are almost constantly online. Students have an almost dependent bond with their technology, but what can parents and educators do to understand this bond and help students foster a healthy relationship with technology? This article will explore digital wellness and how teachers can encourage their students to adopt this mindset.
What is Digital Wellness?
Digital wellness, also known as digital health or digital well-being, is the intentional pursuit of maintaining a healthy, safe, and balanced relationship with technology in one's professional and personal life. For students, digital wellness is aimed at helping them retain this relationship at school and at home.
What Teachers Should Know Before Implementing Digital Wellness?
Before teachers work to create a balance between using devices in the classroom and engaging in offline activities, there are two things they need to keep in mind:
1. Change Takes Time
Just because we know engaging with our friends and family at a restaurant is good doesn't mean we will automatically put our phones down. This is known as the G.I. Joe Fallacy, "knowing is half the battle." Breaking habits is already hard enough for adults. Teenagers will definitely face challenges with patience and deferred gratification when it comes to putting down their phones.
2. Involve Family
Based on an earlier HiLink article, the best predictor of academic achievement for students is their parents' involvement in their education. This same concept extends towards their habits with technology. While many adults struggle with their digital well-being, these habits can easily be transferred to the next generation. The wide availability of smartphones for children has made this incredibly challenging. Teachers and Parents need to work in tandem to provide a suitable environment for students' digital well-being.
Three Aspects of Digital Wellness to Address
When it comes to digital wellness, three components need to be addressed: Balance, Citizenship, and Safety.
1. Digital Balance
Smartphones and tablets are great, but there is a time and place when they should and shouldn't be used. With the assistance of the adults in their life, students need to learn to be responsible for their online habits and when it is appropriate to use technology in class and at home. The most obvious problems that come from an extended period online come in the form of:
There are several practices to minimize the excessive use of digital devices. Standard digital wellness practices include:
implementing screen time limits
wearing blue-light-blocking glasses to alleviate eyestrain
muting notifications on mobile devices to prevent constant interruptions
Maintaining healthy habits outside of your online practices is also essential, including proper nutrition, physical fitness, and adequate sleep.
For teachers, there are multiple solutions to promote digital wellness in the classroom. For one, teachers can have a designated "unplugged time" during a class break and have students play games, meditate, or participate in other mindfulness activities. Additionally, there are many apps that track how many hours of screen time students have in a given time. Teachers can encourage students to use these apps and then challenge students to spend less time on their devices.
2. Digital Citizenship
An essential task for teachers is to create exemplary citizens, which extends to the virtual world. Bad behavior online can often be seen as less consequential due to the delayed and seeming nonexistent reaction from these harmful actions. On the contrary, social media platforms can have a detrimental impact on mental health. The results of negative comments online and cyberbullying can be devastating, with 1/5 of all bullying now occurring on social media. Other than cyberbullying, social media can also have adverse effects on students' self-esteem, as seen in Facebook's internal research on Instagram's effects on the mental health of teenage girls. In the classroom, teachers should directly address why social norms of courtesy and respect are often broken online and address the unrealistic beauty standards of social media. Students should identify when their peers display inappropriate online behavior and minimize interactions with "online trolls." It is also crucial for students to uphold their own digital citizenship, keeping aware that their digital footprints can be traced and only to post appropriate images or content.
3. Digital Safety
Everyone that uses the internet should be concerned for their online safety, but it particularly concerns students. Students may not be aware of the risks online or what constitutes unsafe behavior. This can include:
browsing websites that can install viruses
falling for online scams and frauds
giving out personal and financial information
Even in a nation like Singapore, known for its internet censorship, found in a 2020 Study by Google that 1 in 2 parents reported that their children face a higher risk of encountering inappropriate content online (as well as "oversharing" information about themselves on social media) compared with the year before. Similar to digital citizenship, teachers should directly address digital safety concerns to students. For example, teachers can present different situations to students, such as "you browse a website allows you illegally download movies" or "a stranger on social media asks for your home address." Teachers can then ask them, "when should you tell a teacher or parent?" or "what is a safe website to go on?"
Excessive and irresponsible time spent online can be detrimental to students. With patience and the help of families, schools can teach students how to build better habits for their digital well-being. Digital wellness is not about rejecting technology. As the great American author, Mark Twain put it, "too much of anything is bad." Digital wellness is meant to reduce the quantity of time while improving the quality of time spent online, enhancing students' learning and social development.