Parents: You Are Not Alone!

Welcome to Our 2022 Family Digital Wellness Guide

The world in which young people are growing up today is dramatically different from the world of their parents’ childhoods. Screens are integrated into our daily lives — they are in our pockets, atop classroom desks, on our wrists, inside our cars, and in the hands of the youngest children and even babies. Not surprisingly, young people’s time spent engaging with digital media has increased dramatically in recent years.

With the digital landscape constantly evolving, families don’t have historical norms to guide effective parenting choices around devices and screen-based media such as apps and video games. With advocacy organizations warning of dire consequences of screen use and young people living their lives increasingly online, parents may feel concerned, confused, even guilty about their decisions around their children’s use of screens and interactive media.

The Digital Wellness Lab is Here to Help

The Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School studies the positive and negative effects of the digital media that young people — from birth through young adulthood — use and how they use them.

Like nutrition or exercise, staying digitally healthy requires effort, but as with eating well or working out, digital wellness is best achieved by taking a balanced approach. In other words, digital wellness is not an end state, but an ongoing process of intentional engagement with our online and offline environment.

You are not alone in your parenting journey. Together, we can help our kids grow up healthy, smart, and kind in our increasingly digital world.

How to Use This Guide

This Digital Wellness Guide is designed to provide parents and caregivers with information and guidance based on clinical evidence and scientific research. In it, we discuss both the benefits and risks of digital media use and provide strategies for parents and caregivers of children from birth through young adulthood. To best use this guide, consider:

Typical child development occurs at different rates in different children, even in the same family. 

You know your children better than anyone as the individuals they are. What’s most important is your child’s developmental readiness. Some four year olds may be emotionally mature enough to engage in conversations about difficult topics. Some teens may not yet be ready for full independence. Both are variations of typical human development. We recommend that you start with your child’s group based on age, but, if recommendations don’t ring true for your child’s readiness, read up or down as needed.

A young person’s digital wellness is influenced by factors far beyond their digital engagement

Culture and values are just two of many elements in a young person’s life that will affect how they engage with the digital world and how that engagement affects them. When reading through research evidence and practical strategies, it’s important to consider how they might need to be adapted for your child’s and your family’s needs.

NOTE: Throughout this guide, we use words like parent, caregiver, and family interchangeably to refer to the adults that are most influential in a child’s upbringing and daily life.

If You Believe Your Child Has a Problem with Digital Media Use

While most young people are able to use digital media in healthy and productive ways, some find themselves unable to regulate their use to a point that it becomes severely detrimental to their mental, physical, and/or social health. We refer to this as Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU). If you believe that your child suffers from PIMU, please contact the Boston Children’s Hospital Clinic on Interactive Media and Internet Disorders (CIMAID) to explore care options, by emailing us at cimaid@childrens.harvard.edu or calling (617) 355-9447.

Have a Question?

If you have an unanswered question or a story that can help other parents, teachers, or others who work with children and youth, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at dwl@childrens.harvard.edu. We will continuously update this Guide to ensure parents have the most current information and useful strategies.

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