Being online is an important part of all our lives. Many young people love using their devices thanks to all the comfortable feelings it can bring- happiness, excitement, amusement, connection- just to name a few. However, we know that this isn’t always the case. Online experiences can sometimes lead to uncomfortable feelings such as disappointment, loneliness, jealousy and confusion. In fact, the ‘Mind the Gap Report’ released by the eSafety Commissioner last year found that online experiences had caused 55% of the children surveyed to feel sad, 38% to feel bad about themselves and 20% to feel hopeless.
The good news is, we don't have to stay stuck with these uncomfortable feelings! It is possible to make small changes that move us back towards those more comfortable feelings we strive for from our online experiences. As trusted adults, we need to understand that many young people won’t be able to do this alone. It is our job to support them in growing the tools they need to be able to actively and purposely reflect on their ever-evolving relationship with technology. We can assist them to both identify what is causing these uncomfortable feelings, and then feel empowered to do something about it. We call this a Tech Check.
It is our job to support them in growing the tools they need to be able to actively and purposely reflect on their ever-evolving relationship with technology.
The Tech Check involves 3 steps- Study, Seek and Switch.
The first step for young people is to pause and reflect on (study) their screen time habits. What were they doing online when they noticed comfortable feelings? Uncomfortable feelings?
We can then look a bit closer at those uncomfortable feelings.
What app/game are they using?
When are they playing- what time of day? For how long?
Who are they interacting with?
Once our young people can identify which part of their online experience is linked to these uncomfortable feelings, they can then feel empowered to make a change (switch) that best fits their personal situation.
This next step is critical- seek help. It is vital that young people know where they can go for help, and that any problem- online or otherwise- is never too big or tricky to be solved with support.
We advocate for young people to seek help from these three main options:
Trusted Adults- this is any adult in their lives that they feel will listen to them, believe them and help them. Examples could be parents, carers, teachers, aunts/uncles, family friends etc.
Kids Helpline- in 2022 almost 400,000 young people contacted the Kids Helpline. Familiarise your child or your class with their website, show them how to webchat, where to find the phone number, and some of the helpful advice already there for them. They might not need it now, but if they ever do you’ll be glad they know where to go. You can visit the Kids Helpline here.
eSafety Commissioner website- eSafety is the place to go if young people ever need something taken down from an app/website, or to report something that is more serious (eg. cyberbullying, image-based abuse). Another great resource to introduce to your child or students in case they ever need it (hopefully they won’t). You can visit the eSafety Commissioner website here.
The final step is to make a change or what we call a switch. This doesn’t mean young people should switch off devices completely, but rather to make a small, positive change to their screen time. This should be in response to what they found was linked to their uncomfortable feelings when they studied (paused and reflected on) their technology use.
Some suggestions of possible changes are
Change the game/app you play
Switch off the chat or comments
Change who you play with
Change your account settings
Change the time of day/length of time you play
Follow more positive accounts
Take a break from screens
Our screen time habits and relationship with technology are ever-changing. That’s why showing young people the importance of checking in with ourselves and how we feel when on devices is something that should be prioritised within the digital technology and the wellbeing curriculum. And remember- a Tech Check isn’t a once off- it’s a healthy habit to build.
Laura Adcock is a primary school educator who has over 10 years of classroom experience, as well as holding a leadership role in the area of curriculum. She now works with Inform and Empower as a Curriculum and Content Director and co-presents the years 3-6 live stream incursions for students.