The 5 M’s of Digital Wellness

5 M’s of Digital Wellness Graphic

Technology and digital media are powerful tools. And just as we wouldn’t hand a child a chainsaw without first teaching them how to use it, we should teach our kids how to use their devices in a positive, intentional, and healthy way. To help you do this, we’ve created the 5 M’s of Digital Wellness.

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Model: Set a Good Example

What To Do

Set a good example of what healthy and responsible technology and digital media use looks like by being mindful of your own habits and consistently modeling the positive behaviors you want your child to follow.

In Action

Put away your devices when spending time with others, such as during meals or when in conversation.

Leave your phone to charge overnight somewhere other than your bedroom.

Ask others, including your children, for permission to post about them on social media. If they ask for posts or images about them to be removed, respect their wishes.

Speak with kindness and respect online. Avoid posting content that may have embarrassing, hurtful, or harmful consequences for others now or in the future.

Check the accuracy of information before re-sharing. 

Take caution when sharing information about yourself and your family online. Ask yourself why you’re sharing it and what you hope to gain from the exposure.

Mentor: Teach and Empower

What To Do

Empower your child to use technology and digital media in a healthy and responsible way by teaching them about the importance of respecting privacy and protecting personal information and by creating space for open non-judgmental conversations about what they see and do — and who they interact with —  online.

In Action

Even if your child is too young for cell phones and social media, start talking about privacy, respect for self and others, and safety online. Share how you make decisions and choose to engage in the digital sphere and what makes you feel good and, on the flip side, bad, online.

Ask your child to teach you how to use their favorite digital media safely. Have them show you how to set up your privacy settings, how to block or report someone, and how to engage in a healthy, positive way.

Create an ongoing dialogue with your child about online activities. Don’t wait until they are “in trouble” to have conversations about what they see and do online. You can share something about your experiences and ask about theirs. For example:

I saw this video on TikTok – what do you think about it? 

My friend posted this photo of me on Instagram. How do you feel about it?

Once, someone sent me text messages that said some really hurtful things. Has that ever happened to you?

Discuss how to identify “tricky people” online and what to do if they are being contacted by someone with bad intentions. These are people who may ask them to keep a secret that could be harmful to them or others, request private or personal details, share uncomfortable comments, ask them to lie, or threaten them.

Talk about who in your family’s circle is a trusted adult who your child can turn to for help or guidance, especially when they are uncomfortable speaking to their parent or guardian.

Monitor: Create Agreements & Enforce Consistently

What To Do

To establish healthy boundaries and make it easier to help your child manage their technology and digital media use, work with them to develop a shared media use agreement that includes clear consequences if rules are not followed. Then, observe behaviors and enforce agreements consistently.

In Action

For minors, make giving you login access a condition for setting up social media and gaming accounts. Discuss what you will use that access for and even log in together regularly.

Involve your child in setting expectations, boundaries, and rules for family media and technology use. Make clear that you are the decision-maker but their input is valued, even if the decisions don’t always go their way.

Create written agreements and engage with your child to update them when their circumstances change. As children grow older and demonstrate greater proficiency with healthy media use, and as school gives way to summer break, they may be ready for shifts in expectations.

“Friend” your child on their interactive media accounts. This allows you to see what they are posting but it also allows them to see what you are posting online, enabling you to indirectly model positive, healthy behaviors.

If you believe your child is exhibiting problematic behaviors, take action by consulting with your pediatrician or a mental health professional. (If you are looking for clinical support, contact the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders.)

Mastery: Help Your Child Achieve Agency and Independence

What To Do

To help your child achieve agency and independence, teach them how to make intentional choices about how and when they engage with technology and digital media. Help them learn how to recover from mistakes not by catastrophizing or shaming, but by modeling and teaching healthy behaviors.

In Action

Encourage your child to create boundaries about their digital and tech use. Discuss how they prefer to spend their free time and what they want to get out of their time spent online. Support their planning for how they will hold themselves to their boundaries.

Develop a game plan together about what your child will do when they see or experience unsafe or concerning behaviors and content online. Consider how they will identify such experiences, what types of experiences they may have, and what they can do when/if they see these types of content.

Talk about why it’s important to protect individual privacy and data online, and how your child can protect their own personal information when creating online accounts and engaging with digital platforms and apps.

Support your child in developing their executive functioning skills — planning ahead, self-regulation and self-control, and ability to focus. Help them to practice these skills when they are offline and when they are engaging online.

Memories: Prioritize Uninterrupted Tech-Free Time

What To Do

Make it a priority to spend uninterrupted technology-free time with your child on a regular basis. You don’t have to spend a lot of time, nor do you have to do something “special” or costly. The most important thing is for your child to feel they have your undivided attention while engaged in a shared experience. You can also encourage your child to shut off their devices to spend time doing something they enjoy, like spending time with friends or engaging in a hobby.

In Action

Make regular time to do something together without devices present. While special events are great, it can also be as simple as having a conversation in the car, shooting baskets, or making a meal together.

Take time to do something your child enjoys — playing their favorite video game with them, going for a bike ride, coloring…anything they enjoy that perhaps you don’t get to do with them often. You can ask them what they like best about the activity and request that they teach you how to do it well.

Capture the moment with your memories instead of your camera. Talk about the experience afterwards, sharing favorite moments. Ask younger children to draw pictures of the time you spend together.

Enjoy just being silly together!

The 5 M’s can be applied from the moment a child picks up their first device, but it’s never too late to start!

If your child’s use of media or technology is having a negative effect on their academic outcomes, mental or physical health, or relationships, contact your pediatrician, or a mental health professional, or the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital for support.