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3 Best Practices for Developing Healthy Digital Habits

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child browsing on ipad

The internet is fascinating. You can lose hours playing games, chatting with friends, and scrolling through social media posts. People work, shop, and play online. You can meet new people, discover new perspectives, and even find love online. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to overuse digital devices, resulting in lost productivity at work and damaging real-life relationships. 


Like almost everything in life, online activities are best in moderation. Digital habits help people create a healthy balance between online and offline life. Digital habits are most often mentioned in discussions about technology and kids, but they’re just as important for adults.

Understanding Digital Habits

What Are Digital Habits?

Anything you do regularly is a habit. Brushing your teeth, playing video games, gardening—if you do it on a routine basis, it’s a habit. Whether a habit is good or bad depends on how it affects you and those around you. An evening walk after dinner with a loved one is a good, healthy habit. Smoking, in contrast, is a bad habit that harms your health. 


So, what are digital habits? Digital habits are simply the routine ways you interact with your digital devices. Healthy digital habits include using tech to stay in contact with family and friends, learning new things, and setting appropriate screen time guidelines. Negative digital habits include mindlessly scrolling through social media for hours, using devices in ways that interfere with a healthy sleep cycle, spending too much time sitting, and ignoring real-life family and friends in favor of technology. 


The difference between unhealthy and healthy digital habits often comes down to mindfulness. When you understand how you use digital devices, you’re more likely to use them positively. Almost everyone has lost a few hours to scrolling through posts or YouTube videos. If this passive behavior becomes a habit that interferes with work or personal relations, it needs changing. 

 

Recognizing Unhealthy Digital Habits

Unhealthy digital habits are easy to recognize when you start looking for them. Physically, excessive use of digital devices results in eyestrain, poor posture due to the “down and forward” user position commonly seen with phone and tablet use, reduced physical activity, and a heightened risk of obesity and sleep problems. Mentally, excessive social media use can result in isolation, depression, and digital addiction. 


Examples of unhealthy digital habits include: 

  • Using digital devices in bed before sleep.
  • Checking social media posts constantly throughout the day.
  • Ignoring people in favor of devices.
  • Obsessive gaming.
  • Spending hours passively consuming online content.
  • Checking phones first thing in the morning.
  • Interacting with negative people online.
  • Cyberbullying and trolling.
  • Expressing irritation when asked to focus on face-to-face interactions. 

Importance of Healthy Digital Habits

It’s important to remember that, like many things in life, digital device use is neither good nor bad. It’s how we use our devices that determine the impact they have on our lives. Below are some suggestions to help you practice digital self-care. 
 

Best Practices for Developing Healthy Digital Habits


Set Clear Technology Boundaries: Set times when you do not use devices. For instance, you may prohibit tech use during meals. Limit screen time to certain hours of the day or only allow access to digital devices after completing chores or work responsibilities. 
Practice Digital Detox: Digital detox is an excellent way to improve digital well-being. Digital detox describes a period when you choose not to interact with your devices and instead focus on social interaction or real-world activities. 
Social Media Moderation: Social media platforms keep users engaged with a steady stream of content—often content designed to make you angry because anger is one of the most effective ways to drive engagement. Practice healthy screen time management and take regular breaks from social media to recharge and take part in offline activities. 
Prioritize Real-Life Relationships: Give in-person interactions the time they deserve. While chatting online can be fun, it doesn’t match the feeling of a face-to-face conversation. When interacting with someone in real life, put the digital device down and give the conversation your full attention. 
Manage Your Notifications: Notifications of new texts, social media posts, and emails create a Pavlovian response in many people; we hear the notifying “ding” and just have to see what it is as soon as possible. Turning off your notifications reduces how often you’re distracted by your device. You can take it one step further by turning on your device’s “Do Not Disturb” setting when engaged with real-life activities. 
Set Bedtime Technology Boundaries: Using electronic devices before bed interferes with sleep. The device stimulates the brain and interferes with the circadian rhythm, the body’s natural response to light that triggers sleepiness. Avoiding screen time for an hour or two before bed improves sleep and is one of the best ways to improve digital well-being. 
Be Mindful of Your Digital Consumption: Online content varies wildly in quality. Some content is compelling, thoughtful, or entertaining. Some is mindless fluff, while some is filled with misinformation. Part of digital self-care is choosing what content to consume and avoiding time-wasting content. 
Use Digital Well-Being Apps: Sometimes, the best way to set effective technology boundaries is to use other technology. Digital well-being apps help you track and manage your screen time, while mindfulness apps help keep you focused and aware of your actions. 

Tracking Progress and Accountability

Digital self-care works best if you know how, when, and where you use your devices. Track your digital use over time so you can see this important information. Often, people are surprised by how much time they spend online. Once you understand your existing digital habits, you can improve on them.
Digital well-being also requires accountability. When you teach healthy digital habits to kids, you're setting expectations and consequences for device misuse. If you’re working on your own digital well-being, you must be accountable for your actions. Tracking apps can help keep you on the path toward better habits.

Teaching Healthy Digital Habits to Children

Today’s kids are the most digitally capable generation in history. Born into a world where internet access is considered an essential resource, many children are connected early: over 55% of parents with a child under five say their children already engage with digital devices. Today’s kids enjoy ever-expanding entertainment content through video games, smart TVs, and social media. At schools, students use digital devices to learn, collaborate with other students, and naturally adopt modern software in the same way earlier generations learned penmanship. 


While “growing up digital” affords many advantages to today’s youth, there are real concerns about digital dependence. Encourage a long-lasting healthy relationship between technology and kids by following these three best practices.
 

Limit Screen Time

Should parents limit screen time? Limiting their time on devices teaches children how to balance content consumption with offline responsibilities, activities, and hobbies. 
 

Content Access Moderation

Children have difficulty distinguishing age-inappropriate and healthy content and can quickly find harmful or upsetting content online. Help your child stay safe by moderating the websites and apps they use. Services like Qustodio and Bark allow parents to filter content, block inappropriate websites, and monitor activity across their child’s devices.
 

Be a Role Model for Healthy Digital Habits

Children mimic their parents’ behavior. Practicing positive digital habits in your own life inspires your children to do the same. Set time limits for your device usage, build time away from screens into your daily routine, practice what you preach, and your child will be more likely to follow suit. Check out our post on the benefits of a digital detox for more helpful tips. 


Digital media is one of the most amazing achievements in human history and improves our lives in many ways. Like any technological achievement, however, We need to handle digital devices safely and responsibly. Enjoy your time online, but remember to practice healthy digital habits and enjoy your time offline even more. 


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