Technology and Wellbeing – everything in moderation
Written by Matt O’Connor and Rachael Yates
The most common language young people, parents and the community are exposed to with regards to technology are terms like ‘cyber safety’, ‘how to stay safe online’, ‘online trolls’ and ‘gaming addiction’. We know that there are some inherent challenges in how young people engage with technology but we also know that there are positive and beneficial aspects to technology use as well. It was this passion for promoting and encouraging parents to understand what factors impact on their children’s wellbeing, and strategies for positive use of technology that led Matt O’Connor and Rachael Yates to develop a workshop for parents focussing on the inter-related relationship between technology and wellbeing.
At St Peters Lutheran College (Brisbane, QLD), we have sought to find the balance between embracing technology in the classroom, and at home, as a way to facilitate learning, explore new ideas, express ourselves and to connect with others. We believe that the way young people use technology can be powerful and transformative and that the concerns around over-use of technology relate more to how technology is used, rather than the technology itself being inherently flawed/negative.
Striking this balance is a challenging and ongoing tasks, especially for educators and parents who most often see the impact of improper technology use. Many times, we hear of problems that have gone unchecked for a significant period of time and the response to this then becomes one that can be punitive or overly-restrictive (e.g. a parent taking a phone from their teenage daughter for a term due to frustrations with over-use).
In order to help parents better navigate this balance, we drew on our collective wisdom of technology (Rachael Yates) and wellbeing (Matt O’Connor) to develop a workshop that presents a range of information on how young people are using technology, the benefits and the challenges, as well as a better understanding of what contributes to a healthy level of wellbeing in young people.
One of the main ways we frame our workshop is that the challenges with current technology are primarily not a unique problem. The same level of concern was raised at the introduction of TV and mobile phones back in the day. Society has often found new things confronting – look at the response to Rock and Roll in the 1950s or rap music in later years! If we step back from the challenges of technology and look at the bigger picture issues, we most often see that they are around:
Concerns with finding balance (i.e. doing one thing more than it should be done or in place of other things)
Relationships and communication (i.e. fostering healthy relationships)
These two concerns really sit at the heart of technology and wellbeing; however they are not unique to this area. A lot of young people will have difficulties scheduling their time, being committed and diligent, and using self-regulation. A lot, too, will have difficulties developing healthy and strong relationships with friends and family. So our workshop looks at these two ideas more broadly than just through the lens of technology. We encourage parents to think about what they can do to help facilitate positive relationships with their young person that allows them to understand their experience, and to work with them on developing and growing healthy habits.
There are of course some unique aspects of technology – social media, the way that information is presented, apps and services that encourage us to frequently check in etc. And we certainly address some of these. In particular, we encourage parents to think about setting up family expectations regarding technology use. Within this, we challenge parents to consider that they should also be following the basic guidelines that are recommended (e.g. no phones in bedrooms, phones off during family time).
There are a lot of online resources guiding parents through setting up expectations, but one of the best we have encountered is the Family Media Plan (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx), which was developed by the American Academy of Paediatricians. The main reason this is our go-to resource is that the recommendations present an excellent balance of technology, lifestyle and relationship based guidelines and so focus on promoting balance (rather than just restrictions). Another key resource we utilise and direct parents to is iParent https://esafety.gov.au/iparent. This government resource provides up to date and engaging information to help parents provide safe and enjoyable online experiences for their children. As with any strategy, predictability and consistency are the key. Predictable expectations (about positive and challenging behaviours) and consistent responses (rules are the same, rewards and consequences are applied as explained), allow young people the chance to develop and grow their engagement with technology in a healthy way.
As with all discussions that involve tension, we believe that the most effective way for facilitators, parents and young people to approach this topic is to embrace curiosity, willingness to communicate, and a level-headed way of interacting. Of course, some people have extreme challenges with technology, but for the most part, with some healthy changes, we can all positively embrace the continuing role of technology as part of, and alongside, our wellbeing. We have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to present these workshops to parents as a way to provide some quality information, hear from other parents about their experiences and to share discussions about what has worked and what has not.
Technology is here to stay and discussions regarding mental health and wellbeing are more prevalent than in any other time in history. Let’s ensure we are modelling to our young people what it means to live a health, tech-enabled life!
Attend Matt and Rachael’s session in the Free Seminar Program at the National Education Summit Brisbane on 31 May 2019. See https://nationaleducationsummit.com.au/freeseminarsbrisbane to review and register.
Follow Rachael on Twitter @Rach_Y or visit Matt’s website www.drmattoconnor.com