3 practices to promote healthy digital habits for your kids

Dear friend,

Last month, Jonathan shared how we have been embracing saying “No” at Mind over Tech.

For example, despite how passionately we feel drawn to creating resources to help kids develop a healthy relationship with technology, we have decided to focus our business on supporting adult professionals.

Whilst we don’t have plans to develop courses for children, we know the work we do has an indirect impact on younger generations through their parents.

Our children pay close attention to what we do, and where we place our attention.

In 2021 Kapersky surveyed over 11,000 parents of 7-12 year olds to find out how digital habits are affecting childhood and parenting. They found that the digital habits of parents and children are interlinked. In fact, they found that the most important factor in raising digitally regulated kids was was how sensitive parents are to their own performance as both role models and regulators.

As a Mum of two, I was drawn to the Mind over Tech mission because I was uncomfortable with how I was using my phone in front of my kids.

Many of our learners are parents who, like me, are especially motivated to make a change because they want to be better role models.

This month I want to share 3 practices I have found valuable from experimenting with with my own digital habits, and working with the parents on our courses.

  1. Share your Journey

My first suggestion is to involve your kids as you experiment with your digital habits.

For example, one parent on our course asked his 6 year old son to write a message on a post-it that they then stuck on his phone each day. The post-it was an invitation to put his phone away if he had picked it up unintentionally.

I have tried to develop a habit of telling my kids what I am doing on my phone when I use it in front of them.

I might be checking a message, finding directions on a map, adding something critical to an online shopping basket, or any number of important tasks.

What I realised is that it all looks the same to my kids.

They just see me looking at a screen.

And whilst there was probably a genuine reason I first picked up my phone, it is all too easy to slide from that important message to another, less important one, or into my email…

Now I try to tell them what my intention is when I first pick up my phone, and then encourage them to check that I haven’t been “sucked in”.

I am very conscious that at six and seven, my kids are still young. My true challenge in raising digitally healthy kids will start when they get their own devices.

According to Ofcom, half the nine-year-olds in Britain now own a mobile phone. By twelve, virtually all have one.

If your kids have their own devices, encourage them to run digital habit experiments with you, and take time to reflect and share your experiences and observations.

  1. Create a “Digital Agreement”

Many of the Digital Habit Lab experiments involve creating some kind of environmental boundary.

For example, to avoid phone-use at meal times I try to put my phone on the side, away from the table.

As my kids grow older and get their own devices, I plan to spend some time with them discussing how we would like to use our technology in our home, and as a family.

This “digital agreement” will provide clarity on our family rules, that everyone in our home will be expected to follow. This may also include guests.

Priya Parker, author of Art of Gathering, recently shared her thoughts on Phones and Gatherings.

She describes how one family she knows have a device basket where their children’s friends are asked to leave their phones during playdates.

Parents and friends are told about the basket ahead of time, so everyone is clear on how devices can be used in their home.

As my children grow I expect our digital agreement will shift and change as we experiment with our digital habits, and learn what works best for our family.

My kids will, as with everything, find different rules at their friends houses, although there may be benefits to extending parts of our digital agreement to our wider community.

I recently read about how parents in the Irish town of Greystones have collectively agreed not to give their children smartphones until secondary school.

Their intention is to create a new normal, and I expect we will see more examples of digital agreements in communities and institutions over the coming years.

  1. Embrace a Scientists Mindset

Time spent with our technology isn’t inherently good or bad, and there is no right or wrong way to engage with our devices.

I have found that the best way to self-regulate my tech-use is to first observe how it makes me feel.

To find out if a digital habit is serving me, I run a small experiment without expectation or judgement—a true scientist always maintains an open mind. I try to notice how the new habit makes me feel, and make further adjustments from there.

I am starting to encourage this same approach with my kids to help them learn how to self-regulate their tech use with more clarity.

We are currently away in France for the summer holidays, and my kids have been using the family iPads to write short stories. Yesterday, I left them on the screens for too long and they became noticeably agitated and fractious.

When the devices were packed away, and we had some distance from the experience, we discussed how the screen-time had made them feel and what we should do differently next time.

I also encourage them to notice how technology impacts other people.

My 11-year-old cousin recently did our free email course and ran an experiment that invited her to “see herself in others”. She observed the behaviour of her friends at school and noticed how much less confident they looked when they were using their phones.

This encouraged her to resist turning to her phone when she felt a bit shy at a social event that weekend.

My goal is to help my kids learn how to self-regulate their screen-time, so they can embrace the many gifts of technology as they become adults in our increasingly digital world.

Ultimately, the best thing I can do for them is to keep working on my own digital habits.

In the survey I mentioned earlier, Kapersky found that while 95% of parents were trying to practice they preached when it comes to digital habits, only 49% felt they were achieving it.

Are you happy with how you model digital habits for your kids?

If you have older kids, I’d love to know what has worked for you and for your family.

Hit reply and let me know.

Drop me an email and let me know.

— Harriet
Co-founder of Mind over Tech