Think back to when you were young. Which foods were you allowed to eat at home? Which foods were off limits? Which ones were reserved for special occasions? For me, I recall making faces of disapproval as I ate mandatory vegetables. I think back to the delicious Dunkaroos (a miniature cookie and icing combination) I was allowed to eat as a daily treat. I still smile when I think of the special occasions where my family would order pizza and eat it in front of the TV.
My mom is a great woman. Growing up, she also pretty much determined our diet. She insisted that my siblings and I eat our vegetables. I persisted in hopes of creating my own diet by sometimes hiding those peas and carrots in my napkin or feeding them to the dog. Over the years, I appreciated that my Mom was looking out for my physical health, by playing a positive role in my dietary decisions. This idea can also apply to what we consume online.
Food and screen time have a lot in common.
Healthy dietary decisions are important because they impact the body. Healthy digital decisions are important because they impact the brain. (DISCLAIMER: Food also impacts the brain, and screen time also impacts the body, but we are saving that heavy science for a future blog post). Much like a regular diet, it is important to help kids determine their Digital Diet (one of the concepts we teach when we speak to parents, educators and kids). Digital Diet refers to how much time someone spends in front of a screen, and what content/ information is being consumed at that time.
A great way to start helping kids determine their digital diet is to treat screen time exactly like food. Since things like Snapchat, Instagram, Call of Duty and Yik Yak (examples of social media sites and online games) are not always easy for adults to understand, the food analogy keeps it simple. Here are a few examples of questions parents and adults can ask to determine healthy dietary decisions for their kids, and how it can be applied to determine a healthy digital diet.
Is it possible to eat perfectly every day of your life? No. Is it okay to eat junk once in a while? Yes. The same applies to life online. Kids will make mistakes in person and online. They are human. Sometimes they will venture off the positive path and stumble into silly, foolish, useless websites and games. The best we can do is equip them with positive values and thoughtful decision-making online. That is why “My Life Online” workshops and resources exist.None of the above ideas are mandatory, must-do questions to ask or actions to take with kids. The food analogy is simply a way to prompt ideas, conversations and standards parents and adults can implement with their sons, daughters and students. It also leaves room for flexibility.
As the digital world evolves and life appears to be completely different, have faith in the powerful practices that will always remain the same. As adults, we are here to keep reminding kids to eat their vegetables.