Media Balance & Wellbeing

Unlike ‘happiness’ which is often short-lived, our sense of wellbeing is a complex combination of social, personal and environmental factors. With technology playing such a significant role in our daily lives, it too impacts on our wellbeing to the point that digital wellbeing has been identified as a significant issue and the subject of research, resources and conversations in families and the wider community.

A 2018 report by Media Smarts, The Digital Wellbeing of Canadian Families defined digital wellbeing as ‘the integration of digital technology into family life in a meaningful and balanced way that promotes family values. It is unique for different families and also within families depending on children’s age, cognitive/emotional development, and digital skills.’

In practice this is about having an awareness of how our online lives make us feel about ourselves and others, the choices we make and recognising the impact of being online on our emotions, relationships, and mental and physical health. Most importantly, digital wellbeing is about managing risks and responding to negative experiences that limit the potential harms, being mindful about the time we spend on screens and the inappropriate content we are potentially exposed to or consume.

In recent years, the discussion of digital wellbeing of children and young people has focused on issues such as distractions, cyberbullying, ‘selfies’ and low self esteem and ‘addiction’. What is often ignored are the positive opportunities to promote and protect their wellbeing and this is where parents play a role.

As Dr. Paul Marsden states ‘It’s not that digital is necessarily bad for wellbeing, it may be just that digital is replacing – or displacing – stuff that’s good for wellbeing.’

He provides an example by citing a recent study by Common Sense Media that identifies good sleep as enhancing wellbeing but found that smartphones are now disrupting or negatively impacting  the quality of sleep of teens, which is indirectly harming their wellbeing.

The study found that:

  • 32% use mobile device within five minutes of waking up
  • 29% sleep with mobile device in bed
  • 40% use mobile device within five minutes of going to sleep
  • 36% wake up to check mobile device at least once during the night

The New Zealand Ministry of Health provided some recommendations in its report, Sit Less, Move More, Sleep Well Physical Activity Guidelines for Children and Young People to raise awareness for families who amongst other responsibilities are managing the use of technology, in ways that enhance health and wellbeing.

For school-aged children and young people (aged 5 to 17 years) high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behaviour and sufficient sleep each day achieves greater health benefits.

A healthy 24 hours includes: 

  • quality uninterrupted sleep of 9 to 11 hours per night for those aged 5 to 13 years and 8 to 10 hours per night for those aged 14 to 17 years, with consistent bed and wake-up times
  • an accumulation of at least one hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity (incorporate vigorous physical activities and activities that strengthen muscles and bones, at least three days a week) 
  • no more than two hours per day of recreational screen time 
  • for the remainder of the day
    • sitting less, moving more – break up sitting time
    • participating in structured and unstructured light physical activities

Children and young people, with their parent’s help, are encouraged to live an active lifestyle with a daily balance of sleep, sedentary behaviour, and physical activity that supports their healthy development and promotes their wellbeing.

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