Annie Fuerst, Director of Technology & Innovation

AnnieFuerst, Director of Innovation

Where ‘Only Human’ Matters Most: Teaching Digital Wellness

I had planned to use this space to share my top guidelines for healthy digital habits. But the truth is, as I started writing, I decided to use ChatGPT to compile a list for me in another tab.

Me: Hello! Can you give me some tips to share with students who are starting to use technology more independently? I’d like tips about being a good digital citizen and having a good technology balance.

ChatGPT: Certainly! Here are some tips for students who are starting to use technology more independently:

  • Be responsible: Use technology in a responsible and appropriate manner. Avoid using it for bullying, cheating, or any other unethical behaviors.
  • Protect your personal information: Be cautious about sharing personal information online, such as your full name, address, phone number, or social security number. Only share this information on secure websites, and be wary of phishing scams that try to steal your information.
  • Stay informed: Keep up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in technology, and stay informed about digital citizenship issues such as online privacy, cybersecurity, and net neutrality.
  • Think before you post: Before posting anything online, think about how it could be perceived by others. Be careful not to post anything that could be harmful or offensive to others.
  • Practice intentional device usage: Use devices for their intended purposes, and avoid using them excessively or in inappropriate situations (e.g., during class, at the dinner table, or while driving).
  • Use reliable sources: When conducting research or seeking information online, use reliable sources such as academic journals, books, and reputable websites.
  • Be aware of cyberbullying: If you experience or witness cyberbullying, report it to a trusted adult or authority figure.
  • Limit screen time: Set limits on the amount of time you spend online or using technology. Take regular breaks to rest your eyes and avoid prolonged sitting.
  • Be mindful of your online habits: Be aware of how much time you spend online and whether it’s impacting your mental or physical health. If you feel overwhelmed or stressed by technology, take a break or seek help from a trusted adult.

By following these tips, students can become responsible digital citizens and maintain a healthy balance between technology and other aspects of their lives.

Frankly, it’s a good list– one that I would encourage Belmont Day students to abide by–and it took ChatGPT all of 30 seconds to generate it.

In a world where chatbots can write a list of nine guidelines in less time than it took for me to write the question, we probably don’t need to be spending a great deal of our mental energy on rule generation. Of course, posting this list of guidelines in our classrooms or on our refrigerators will likely not change our children’s habits. Neither will blocking sites or setting screen limits–truthfully I’ve found those strategies to be received as challenges more than boundaries as our savvy kiddos look for loopholes.

This isn’t to diminish the importance of setting clear expectations around technology; keeping open lines of communication about tech use is essential to building healthy habits. Rather, I seek to stress the fact that technology is changing so rapidly, and is so intertwined in every aspect of our lives, that relying on a list of guidelines for model ‘digital behavior’ is becoming more difficult–even outdated. To borrow a line from my conversation with ChatGPT, ‘trying to keep up with technology is like running on a treadmill–you’ll never get ahead.’

In this era of rapid technological change, we need to focus not on simply responding to the latest trends, but on coaching our children to be ready for the future.

As the lines between our ‘digital’ lives and ‘real’ lives begin to blur, we need to teach our children to be responsible decision-makers in their day-to-day lives, to interact respectfully whether in class, at the dinner table, on a video call, or on social media; to care about themselves and notice when a habit, or a site, or a friendship is affecting their wellbeing; to find joy through extracurriculars like athletics, music, coding, and digital arts; and to be honest with themselves and their trusted adults when something isn’t feeling right.

Coaching children to develop awareness and skill in these competencies is how we can instill lasting excellence, regardless of what currently unfathomable technologies may lie ahead.

So, here is my list of tips for parents and teachers to support healthy digital habits. There are only two:

  • Guide the child, not the device. Stop making lists of rules for devices in isolation, and start coaching children to view their digital habits as part of the larger whole. Link expectations around tech use to the same expectations and values we hold children to in other areas of their lives.
  • Be the trusted adults. Keep communication open so that when (not if) mistakes are made, we can be there to have honest conversations even when they are hard, and to support and guide our children as they learn and grow in this ever-changing world.

ChatGPT’s AI may have the role of ‘rule generator’ covered on this one. But, we, as parents and educators, will always be responsible for that vastly more important human role of caring for, and coaching and nurturing our children and students.

I hope many of you will join us on Wednesday, March 22 at 6:30 in Coolidge Hall to continue this conversation and to hear from Kerry Gallagher about research and strategies to support this work during our Parent Education Forum on Digital Wellness.

AnnieFuerst, Director of Innovation

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