Mental Health and Well-Being Snapshot: December 2021
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Digital Technology, Screen Time, and our Well-Being
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Screen time and technology:
How are we doing, and why focus on it (again)?

We looked at technology use, screen-time, and their impact on well-being in one of our snapshots from last school year. Since that time, technology‘s place in most of our lives has only become more prominent, and the battle for our attention between various platforms has only heightened. Further, we are still in the midst of a pandemic that in many cases still pushes screen-time into a central role in our collaboration, connection with friends and family, and interactions with community. In short, technology and time in front of a screen are fixtures of most of our lives, so it is in our best interest to learn ways to establish appropriate balance, think critically about information we get and choices we make online, and distinguish the plethora of helpful tools available to us online from the diversions that can add stress or be detrimental to our well-being if overused.

Recent Canadian research suggests screen time for some children and youth populations may have risen to an average of three times the recommended daily amount over the course of the pandemic. There are unquestionable benefits and applications for that screen time, but overuse and inappropriate use have risks as well. Creating and maintaining social connections, enhancing learning, and developing pro-social skills are all possible benefits of screen time when appropriately accessed. However, the risks of disengaging from social activities, distracting our attention, accessing inappropriate content, interfering with healthy eating or activity, or exacerbating depressive symptoms are also present.


Social media and the brain

If you feel pulled to routinely check your phone or refresh your social media page, there is a good reason for that. Social media platforms are designed to exploit vulnerabilities in how our brains work, from the visuals used to the type of content put in front of us, social media platforms can activate the reward systems of our brains, exacerbate our fears, and make simple notifications seem much more important than they are.

Here are some flags that might indicate social media habits that could leave you feeling drained or unhappy about yourself:

If trivial things feel urgent

If you find yourself passively scrolling or clicking

If you find yourself consistently trying to multitask online

If you find yourself consistently drawn into content that elicits feelings of fear, anger, or disgust

If you find yourself routinely comparing yourself or your situation to others you see online

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What's on your plate?

Dr. Shimi Kang is a psychiatrist in BC who specializes in work with children and technology. Dr. Kang emphasizes that managing time on devices is important, but paying attention to the type of media we are interacting with is just as important - healthy tech designed to help us create, connect, or care for ourselves is where we ant to spend most of our technology time, while avoiding toxic technology that can be detrimental to our wellbeing. Watch the video below to hear Dr. Kang explain the different types of technology use and what happens in our brain when interacting with different types of technology.


Video: How much is too much?

Research on the question of how much screen time is enough or too much for different age groups is still evolving, but it is becoming clear that, as the visual above lays out, the type of screen time matters a lot. Watch this video to learn a bit more about current research and recommendations.

Tech Conversations at Home

Helping teens develop healthy relationships with social media

While there is a correlation between heavy social media use and mental health concerns such as anxiety, the relationship is complicated and the potential positive impacts of some social media use - for connection, learning, or inspiration, for example - cannot be discounted.

But for parents seeing their children struggle with added stress or sadness resulting from social media use, it can be tempting to just shut it down all together. Experts suggest a more individualized and collaborative approach is the key to helping children navigate social media stresses:

Check in and individualize the response to online stresses

Set family screen-free times

Demonstrate positive role modelling with your own technology use

Collaborate on technology plans for the family

Pay attention to the kinds of social media consumption or interaction - this can be more important than the total time spent online

And, importantly, understand that social media simply magnifies stressors that are already there in their world, so avoid simply focusing in on social media.

How to create a family screen-time agreement

Effective screen-time agreements consider the whole picture - How will this agreed upon time impact our sleep and overall well-being? What about our opportunities to connect as a family? They involve no-screen times and times for sharing with each other about screen time. And they have bottom lines around safety, with a foundation of honest discussion and a commitment to work through mistakes together.


So many questions!

Technology evolves fast, and the digital distractions and tools available today are vastly different than what was available even ten years ago. As a result, some parents will naturally have many questions about what's best for their children when it comes to technology and screen time. Common Sense Media is one online resource that can be a helpful starting point. Check it out for answers to common questions such as "could my child be addicted to video games?" "How do I protect my child's privacy online?" And "how do screens affect sleep?"

Screen Time Questions
Social Media Questions
Privacy and Internet Safety Questions

And what about questions to ask ourselves and our family members when we are choosing technology or negotiating screen time agreements? The Centre for Humane Technology has these suggestions:

What thought, feeling, or impulse led you to pick up your device?

As you scroll through your feed, what kind of thoughts come up?

What kind of emotions come up?

Why am I reaching for my device?

How is this technology really enhancing my life?

Am I being a tech role model?

When I am mindlessly using technology, am I taking ownership of that with my family?

Am I engaging in “slot-machine” behavior? e.g. Endlessly scrolling for the occasional emotional reward? Repeatedly checking my likes to see how many there are, or who liked my post?

What values is this content/game teaching?

How can I use what I am consuming as a source of inspiration for creating something of my own?

What is my reason for posting? How would it feel if no one likes this?

Managing tech at home during the holidays

MediSmarts has produced a guide to navigating common challenges with technology over the holiday season, from setting guidelines for new technology to dealing with problematic classics. Some tips include:

When creating a technology agreement, agree on guidelines for both child and parent - how parents model choices and react to missteps is so important. Co-creation of guidelines also helps with buy-in to the plan.

Be attentive to the media choices your child is making, and have discussions about the content that model critical thinking - Do you think that‘s a healthy way to act towards a girlfriend or boyfriend? Are the girls you know in real life like the ones in that show? 

Additional Resources

Looking to dig deeper?

If you are concerned about your own relationship with technology, or that of your family or students, the Centre for Humane Technology provides some resources and reflective exercises to help spur that along. From their website: "the Center for Humane Technology (CHT) is dedicated to radically reimagining our digital infrastructure. Our mission is to drive a comprehensive shift toward humane technology that supports our well-being, democracy, and shared information environment."

Get offline to build online skills

The irony of recommending online resources at the same time as we are cautioning against online pitfalls is not lost on us. It's important to remember that so many of the skills that will help us navigate the online world successfully are ones that we develop in other areas of our life as well - skills such as empathy, respect for self and others, critical thinking, and social awareness and identity. 

Books are one way we can learn and develop these skills and attributes. Here are some recommendations for books that can start the conversation about digital literacy and healthy tech balance at home or in the classroom:

Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino
hello! hello! by Matthew Cordell
Chloe by Peter McCarty
Blackout by John Rocco
Press Here by Herve Tullet
Unplugged: Ella Gets Her Family Back by Laura Pederson
Unplugged by Steve Anthony
Nerdy Bird Tweets by Aaron Reynolds 
Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell
The Fabulous Friend Machine by Nick Bland
Goldilocks (A Hashtag Cautionary Tale) by Jeanne Willis
Goodnight Ipad by Ann Droyd

Looking for more? Your school's Learning Commons teacher will be able to recommend other books in your school's collection.


MediaSmarts is a Canadian not-for-profit charitable organization for digital and media literacy. Through information and tools, they help children, youth and trusted adults develop the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens.

MediaSmarts has resources for home and school, including free lesson plans, family agreements, informational articles and videos, and games for building digital literacy skills.

Apps to support well-being

We'd be amiss to spend all of this time talking about the challenges technology can pose for our mental health, without also showcasing some instances of technology that can support positive mental health and well-being. Two that stand out for youth mental health are the Mindshift CBT app from Anxiety Canada, and the Foundry Virtual app (also accessible from your browser).

Mindshift: From the Mindshift website: "MindShift® CBT uses scientifically proven strategies based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you learn to relax and be mindful, develop more effective ways of thinking, and use active steps to take charge of your anxiety."

Foundry Virtual: Foundry Virtual makes many of the youth services and supports accessible through the Foundry available online, including counselling supports and online learning resources.

...And don't forget about SD63's Mental Wellness Hub

This site compiles both local and online mental health and wellness resources for families and educators, and is updated monthly with new resources.
SD63's Mental Wellness Hub