I first heard Jocelyn Brewer whilst listening to, The Digital Mindfulness podcast and she was discussing her concept of Digital Nutrition. It was absolutely fascinating and I couldn’t wait to share it with my readers at Cub & Cave.
The amount of time our children spend on digital devices or watching TV is a concern for most parents these days. A short while back I took my little boy, Rayyan (at the time 20 months old) to the doctors after he hit his head on the coffee table (he was fine). This was a new doctor’s surgery for us and the waiting room was full of senior patients. My son did great for the first 10-15 minutes of waiting. I would give him a receipt to put in the bin, he would put it in, and then the man sat next to the bin would secretly pass the receipt back to me so we could start all over again. Fun for a toddler I assume Rayyan eventually got bored and like many other mothers with limited resources (no toys, or books etc), I caved and gave him my mobile phone. He opened it, chose a game and started, playing, much to the surprise of the man next to us who exclaimed; ‘my wife bought me a mobile phone 4 years ago and I still haven’t used it. But look at him, he can work it already.’ I felt a mixture of shame and pride, but I also felt that I needed to defend myself, even though I was not actually being accused of anything and it got me thinking about how much we, as parents, are scared of being judged! It also got me thinking about how much screen time is okay for our children. I know at Rayyan’s age, it should be pretty non-existent (I am guilty of screen time discretion’s, I’m sorry!) but are there positive aspects to digital media for older children and how do we keep our children safe and savvy on digital devices?
Jocelyn Brewer, a psychologist from Sydney is developing a concept for online activities, such as games, apps and social media which is similar to food nutritional labels, to help us understand the impact that they could have on well-being.
Digital nutrition is about preventing problematic internet use/overuse and emphasises the positive effects that technology offers modern communities. It covers aspects such as Digital Citizenship and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) whereby we learn how to be responsible, well informed cyber citizens. We do this by having respect for others, only critiquing in positive, helpful ways and showing empathy towards other people online. It also explores best practice principles for healthy engagement which is relevant to both adults and children. For children, it includes screen time limits, supervision guidelines and advice about tools such as parental controls. A great way to make sure your kids stay safe online is to research and identify which online tools, apps and games have positive learning aspects which could encourage language development, literacy and socialisation. Supplement the fun stuff with some serious educational games too to add to their ‘digital diet’.
Jocelyn also offers guidelines specifically for parents. A key point is the balance of digital versus offline activities. Doing physical activities such as running, exploring and jumping produce opportunities for the brain and body to create neural connections, which then feed into the development of memory and confidence, just to name a few. Playing online together with your children can also benefit both of you by creating opportunities for sharing, communicating and empowering kids to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. Children learn by trial and error whereas adults tend to be more conscious of making mistakes therefore, parents can actually learn from their children on how to use certain technology more effectively. Jocelyn also emphasises the importance of not forgetting to talk. If you build rapport with your child and ask them more descriptive questions now about what they like, it can make it easier for you both to tackle difficult conversations during their teenage years.
The 3 M’s of Digital Nutrition
Jocelyn says there are 3 M’s to always keep in mind: Mindful, Meaningful and Moderate.
Mindful – Be present in your actions; take responsibility for your activities online and your child’s. Be aware of how much time your child sees you using technology and what this says to them.
Meaningful – Have a sense of purpose and clarity in your activities online, how is what you are reading and commenting on adding to your goals and values.
Moderate – regulate and temper your habits and usage, and avoid negative impacts across other aspects of your life. This means time spent, what you say and how you react online.
Interview with Jocelyn Brewer:
Jocelyn has been very kind in answering some questions, specifically for Cub & Cave readers:
At what age do you think Digital media can play a positive role in our kid’s lives?
Pretty much any age is my philosophy. The background to digital nutrition is really about thinking about our online activities the way we would our food. So if you have developmentally appropriate digital activities or digital media, games and apps, then all those sorts of things can have a positive role. It’s really about what is in the activity so if we think beyond the screen time other than just like the number of calories we consume or the amount of time that we’re online, think about what are the actual virtual vitamins and minerals within the activities that we do. So if you have a two-year-old what are they actually doing? Are they just having a whole bunch of sensory overload and really high end stimulation? Or is it quite a simple game where they are doing things that they’d normally do with blocks and stuff like that in a setting that makes it a little bit easier to wrangle a child. So with digital media I guess we have to just think about it in terms of the developmental age that a child is at, but also the activity that you’re asking a child to do. Another thing I talk about is the function of that activity; so what is the point of doing it? What is the context? Where are you doing it? Are you using it to pacify the child or shut them up, in which case that might not be something to develop a reliance on. What are the cognitions that go with it? Are you thinking when you use technology? I guess that an example could be of kids that take selfies. Are they thinking good thoughts about themselves, are they having a positive response, or are they saying negative stuff when posting different pictures and things like that. I guess that as your site is about Boys, it might be a question like, ‘are you gaming and thinking I really love playing in a team and this makes me feel really purposeful’ or are they thinking I just have to kill everything that moves and I hate everyone and this is an outlet for me being angry. So it’s really about what goes with the activities, it’s not just the activity itself.
Do you think there is a difference between the way boys and girls use digital media? Are either more susceptible to overusing digital devices or digital media, or do the sexes use it totally differently?
It really depends on what age you are talking about. I don’t know that much about who’s more susceptible to overusing, again it would depend on the activity that you are doing because some activities for instance games that have persistent worlds or games that have no actual end, you cannot finish it you just keep playing and playing and playing, are obviously designed to hook people in and want people to come back. There are some different activities that make people more susceptible to wanting to continue to play. If you are talking about someone with an underdeveloped little brain who is trying to avoid doing homework or learning handwriting, they might not feel they are particularly good at, then you can imagine how there are different propensities to overuse or to what could be addiction, so doing something that feels good rather than doing something that feels crap which is a normal human reaction. In terms of boys and girls and if we are talking about under 10s and little ones, my research area is much more to do with the older ones. Dr Kirsty Goodwin (link below) would know a lot more about that aspect as she has done lots of research. She is really awesome and she deals with the little ones. But obviously there are normal gender differences; girls play more nurturing games, for growing stuff and dressing things up, so there is a little bit of difference from what I’ve read.
If you could give some advice to my readers about making the most out of digital nutrition what would it be?
Going back to the idea of going beyond screen time it’s really not just about how long you spend online but the content, context, cognitions and functions of what you are doing and why you doing it. So think about it being developmentally appropriate. Think about the purpose of things, think about why you are doing things alone in your bedroom or doing things at the dinner table and ignoring people in your family. Perhaps it is because you’ve done all of your chores and you had a really awesome week and that is your de-stress. So really, it’s about thinking in a much more deep and meaningful way about the activities, and parents taking a little bit more ownership around what the digital habits of little ones are. And then how that feeds into what their digital habits are and how that will affect the digital habits of their tweens and teens. And thinking about what is inherent to digital nutrition such as, what does a healthy digital diet look like, what does your family’s lifestyle around technology look like, what commitments or guidelines does your family have to support an online / offline balance and kind of appreciating technology for all the things we can do with it but not getting stuck on those kind of hooks that I was talking about before.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Digital Nutrition. Please see below links to Jocelyn’s websites. I’d love to hear your comments and share your tips and experiences on how digital technology plays a positive role in your household.
If you would like to know about Jocelyn or read or watch more about this topic please go to her websites: