The digital landscape has changed lifestyles for people of all ages. Many of these changes are positive and empowering: They’ve increased access to education and information and provided new tools for safety and convenience. But there can be too much of a good thing.
We are still learning about the impact excessive screen time can have on students’ physical and emotional wellness. Achieving healthy online/offline balance is more important than ever. But the good news is with a bit of awareness and communication, it’s possible for teachers and students to manage technology behavior.
Empower students to be intentional about screen time with these three simple strategies to encourage digital wellness:
Tip 1: Start a discussion
Do your students know the consequences of spending a lot of time online? Too much internet use can result in diminished mental health, lower grades and damaged friendships. They may not be aware of how blue light disrupts their sleep patterns. They may not understand how to practice self-reflection to check in on their own digital health and wellness. The key is education.
Checki-in: Students can ask themselves, “Do I feel happy when I’m online?” or try to notice and track when they feel anxious about what they’re missing online.
Track it: Students may want to consider their physical health, and track if they’re getting enough activity or if they have negative behaviors such as “zombie-eating” in front of a screen and not noticing when they’re full.
Talking about consequences is the first step toward metacognition: the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. Students who can understand and name feelings, such as social comparison, or who can notice unhealthy warning signs may be more likely to unplug when needed.
Tip 2: Think positively
Challenge students to identify the positive aspects of both their online and offline time. Many students understand that they feel drawn to social media and an online presence, but they may not be able to immediately name what exactly draws them in. People want to connect; that’s not new. And developmentally, it is normal for teens to crave time and connection with peers. Each generation finds new ways to achieve that. Help them explore what ways technology enriches and enhances their lives.
Similarly, encourage students to explore those offline activities and goals that will help them succeed — whether it’s studying for a test, training for cross country, getting at least eight hours of sleep, or actually waking up in time to shower before school. The key is to focus on positive ways to accomplish offline goals and still find time to connect online. Helping students find positive solutions for achieving balance can support their self-awareness and reflection.
Tip 3: Build healthy habits
Healthy digital habits are built over time. Scaffold this for your students by providing students with weekly challenges that build norms for healthy digital behavior.
Improve concentration and focus: Have students try setting their phones to “do not disturb” during study time, or put devices on silent during work time. They can even set a timer for 5-10 minutes for a “tech break” during which they’re allowed to check phones and social media until the alarm goes off. Challenge students to study for 30-40 minutes before the next tech break.
Encourage better sleep: Students can change the blue light settings on their phone to night mode in the evening, as well as take devices out of their room one hour prior to bed-time, and instead focus on reading or playing music.
Promote well-being: Students can use mindful breathing when they feel stressed after being on a device. If they have to be online for a long time, they may want to take 10-minute device-free breaks for every 90 minutes of work. Healthy breaks include taking a nap, exercising, daydreaming or even talking to someone over the phone (rather than texting).
Check out this free lesson for even more activities and simple discussion questions.
Technology and smart devices are integrated into our lives. Just as we teach the importance of physical exercise and healthy eating, digital wellness and balance is a critical skill that children must be taught early and often. Help students learn to identify the common signs indicating that their online and offline balance isn't healthy and develop habits to stay on track.
Digital balance — making informed decisions about how to prioritize time and activities online and off — is one of the five competencies of the DigCitCommit campaign. Watch the video below to find out how you can join the movement!
Tracey Beckett is a K-12 communications manager at EVERFI. She also served as an implementation manager for North Texas for two years, where she has spent the majority of her career in education. As a former fourth and fifth grade teacher, she knows how hard teachers work and loves thinking about ways to make their lives and jobs easier. You can often find her listening to the latest Harry Potter podcast or guessing which Hogwarts house you'd probably be sorted into.
This is an updated version of a post that originally published on Oct. 21, 2019.