Central Penn Parent: Digital wellness for kids

By Bitsy McCann

Coraline will start preschool this year, so I officially have a school-aged child – if I’m allowed to be a little flexible with the definition. With back-to-school planning on the horizon, I’d like to focus on an educational tool for parents and their children.  

Over the summer, Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) released a free “Family Digital Wellness Parent Toolkit” aimed at helping parents and caregivers raise healthy kids in our digital era.  

Full disclosure here: The PSFA is a client of mine. I designed the tool kit and all their other family digital wellness documents.  

But my relationship with the agency has nothing to do with the usefulness of their materials, including the tool kit.  

The kit is a free 44-page document (did I mention it’s free yet?) that gives parents practical and implementable ideas for keeping kids safe online and in the cyberworld. 

As someone who has their toddler on a one-hour-a-day-or-less screentime policy, I didn’t think I would find much helpful information inside, that it would be geared more toward older kids.  

Boy, was I wrong. 

The framework of this program is applicable for families with kids of all ages, and it also gave me a map on how to move forward with tech in the future. 

The book addresses five steps in a circular plan that parents should follow when working toward family digital wellness and safety: 

  1. Pause to become aware of the current digital dangers that threaten children and families.
  2. Prioritize your family’s most urgent needs related to digital threats and safety.
  3. Protect your family against current digital threats by implementing a family digital safety plan.
  4. Prevent risk and harm to your family by practicing digital safety routinely.
  5. Practice healthy interactions with digital technologies through transparent behavior and role modeling.

There are questions and activities that really made me stop to think about how I currently parent and how I plan to parent in the future.  

Some of my key takeaways were: 

Even if you’re not sure, you can always learn. This is true in every area of life, but instead of assuming your child will be okay or assuming your child will be in danger online, take the time to make yourself aware of the digital threats around your family and children. Some parents whose children unfortunately died after they took the TikTok challenge and held their breath until they passed out said, “We didn’t even know this was a thing.” Make sure you know what the “things” are. 

Digital safety is forever. We all know that to be knowledgeable on a subject, you have to keep learning as new information presents itself. The only thing constant is change, and as things change, you need to change and adapt with them. This goes for technology too. 

Kids model their parents’ tech behavior. If you’re always on your phone, chances are that you are training your kids to always be on their phones. Be aware of the modeling you’re doing. It’s unrealistic to expect your kids to have a better relationship with technology than their caregivers do.  

Make time to put down all technology. In addition to modeling healthy relationships, make time to put down all your gadgets every single day. Whether it’s at the dinner table or another time, always have time with your family with no screens around. 

Even if you’re nailing it as a tech-using parent, it’s always good to check-in to ensure that you’re still rocking it. 

The guide is available at pafsa.org/family-digital-wellness. The site requires that you input your information in order to download the kit, but Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance will continue to send you free resources as they become available.  

If you’ve downloaded the Family Digital Wellness Parent Toolkit and loved it as much as I did, I would be happy to chat with you about strategies you’re implementing and insights you developed  through your work with the book. 

Bitsy McCann owns a boutique graphic design firm in Harrisburg, PA, performs original music all around Central PA, officiates one-of-a-kind weddings, and spends most of her free time obsessing over her husband and toddler. She would absolutely welcome your thoughts and commentary – send her a message on either LinkedIn or Facebook

From Central Penn Parent, August 2, 2022

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