In my work with middle school students all over the country, we continuously build tools and methods for being tech healthy together. Adding student voice to my work on youth, families, communities, and tech is critical. Asking students directly about their experiences, insights, and knowledge about life online has been the deepest part of my work. Often they are very forthcoming and reasonable about what they think is safe, appropriate, and fair. And sitting in my curiosity, they have been incredible teachers.
Together, we agree that we are all responsible for how we show up on the Internet. So, over time, we’ve built some tried and true practices together. Here are the top five.
- The Billboard — The Internet is a public space — even if our accounts are set to private, the content disappears or we think a chat is just between friends. Images, conversations, and behavior can be screenshots, shared and spread. How can we remember that we are accountable and responsible for what we say and do online? We can think of The Billboard! Try to imagine many eyes in a public space seeing what you’re saying, sending, and sharing. This helps us remember to be good digital citizens and mindful of our digital presence.
- The Pause — The Pause is practicing digital mindfulness. It means using tech intentionally and with purpose. This means recognizing when we are activated with body scans and reflective practice. Is our heart rate up? Are we clenching our fists or jaw? Are our shoulders by our ears? What emotions are present? What might we need? One of our built-in gifts as humans is the ability to pause on purpose. Hitting the “pause button” means taking three to five rounds of breaths — inhale, exhale, repeat. This helps to calm the central nervous system, improve decision-making, and move through big, intense moments. Practicing the pause button is a great tool for being tech healthy.
- Permission To Post — This just might be the most adopted tool by middle school students. They love using this practice with their families and friends. If we are going to take a picture or video of someone, checking in with them before we put it online or share it is easy when we ask “Permission to Post?”. This extra step ensures that what we share from our accounts makes others feel good and safe. It also protects us from sharing embarrassing, harmful, or unwanted content of others.
- Tech Curfew — This one is often tough to sell with middle school students at first because it feels like a punishment and not a tool for supporting health and well-being. We all know how important sleep is for our mood, memory, performance, and physical health. But the tech curfew is also great for our emotional health too. Having an end of the day when we are off and away from screens is good for our internal and external rhythms and routines.
- Askable Adult — Believe it or not, almost every middle school student I talk to loves to brag about their grown-ups. They love to share what traits they admire, ways they have fun, and agreements they set to help keep them safe and loved. Having an Askable Adult is the “seatbelt” on staying safe online. Our young people will make mistakes, be misunderstood, view content not meant for them, or be confused about what they consume. The more we make space to keep the door open for conversations and support, the healthier the students’ use.