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PARENTING

SCREEN SANITY: HOW TO RAISE HAPPY, HEALTHY KIDS IN THE DIGITAL WORLD

DIRECTOR | FIONA FOXON

MARCH 1ST, 2024
WORDS BY: MICHELLE COLE
IMAGES: HOUSE OF BIMBI & SCREEN SANITY

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PARENTING

Screen Sanity: How to raise happy, healthy kids in the digital world

DIRECTOR | FIONA FOXON

MARCH 1ST, 2024
WORDS BY: MICHELLE COLE
IMAGES: HOUSE OF BIMBI & SCREEN SANITY

A SERIES: PART 1/3

We sit 'Around The Table' with Fiona Foxon, director of Screen Sanity to discuss their mission to ‘raise happy, healthy kids in a digital world’. Providing support for parents & families in an rapidly evolving space.

Who is Screen Sanity?

Screen Sanity is a global non-profit which was founded in the USA in 2017, and expanded into Australia in 2021 by Fiona and co-founder, Mackenzie Forrester. Since it was founded, they’ve helped parents internationally to navigate this new world of parenting. Fiona explains, “Parenting used to be where you had a village of people; you could call your auntie, your grandma, your neighbours, and everyone could assist you in all of the different facets. But parenting has changed. This advent of technology and the role that technology plays in our lives and our children's lives has changed tremendously.”

At Screen Sanity, Fiona and the team support parents and carers through a range of resources, tips, tools, and educational workshops aimed at empowering them to navigate this new world of raising digital natives. Why? Because ultimately, technology is here to stay. As much as we'd like to throw the iPads out the window, or sometimes bury our heads in the sand, it is here to stay and as Fiona explains,

it doesn’t have to be a complete source of fear and confusion for families.

As Fiona describes, it is about supporting our children to be happy and safe in the real world and the online world, because this is their new reality. A fact that most modern parents can relate to, is that as parents, we are now the last generation of parents who will have experienced a childhood without technology. We know it is here to stay, burying our heads in the sand doesn’t work, so what can we do about it?

VALUES AND THE DIGITAL WORLD

Screen Sanity leads with a values-based approach in their support to parents and carers. Rather than being seen as something separate from the core family dynamic and the core family values, Fiona teaches parents that technology can bring joy, connection and knowledge. However, it’s how we work with it and find a purposeful balance with technology. Underpinning the relationship with technology with your family values – for example of connection and creativity. Understanding that each family can reflect on this themselves because it looks different with every single family.

Creating family agreements that are based on shared values, rather than based on rules and fear. Underpinning these conversations with openness and supporting ongoing conversations – which families need to continually have as their children navigate their different stages of online behaviour. Teaching them that it is ok to be unsure of something, that if something or someone doesn’t make them feel right, or safe, what steps should they do next and who can they talk to at home about it with.

What would be the first starting point of advice you'd give someone having that overwhelmed feeling?

Start with Screen Sanity’s five guiding principles for digital health:

START. This stands for:

Start with yourself

Tables and Bedtimes

Accountability

Ride, Practice, Drive

Time Well Spent

Fiona shares “We hear every day from parents that technology is the number one battle in modern homes.” So, we use START to think about small changes that we can make to help our children build the muscles for good digital health.

How does my use of technology matter?

At Screen Sanity, we know that today’s parents are very busy, and often how we stay on top of everything is tied in through our smartphones. However, if we use the first guiding principle, Start With Yourself, whether it's work, social media, or auto-playing the next episode on Netflix, it’s about taking time to reflect on how do I role model better digital habits and behaviours for my children? This as the first step then carries through for parents to consider what role does technology play for my family and my family values? What are the values that we have as a family that will inform our relationship with technology? How might we use it in a positive way that aligns with our values? Fiona explains, “It’s about empowering the whole family, including the children, to make time for values-based conversations that align to what suits their family dynamic.”

“It takes a village to raise a child, modern parenting is even harder to do alone”

A key part of the work for Screen Sanity is their community education – whether it is through supporting with free resources, or upskilling parents through workshops in schools, libraries, sport teams, paediatric and hospital networks and more. There is great power in a community coming together. Fiona encourages parents to talk to each other about these tricky subjects.

It takes a village to raise a child, modern parenting is even harder to do alone. At Screen Sanity workshops for parents and facilitators start by inviting participants to release the pressure of perfect parenting. We know that it can be overwhelming. Knowing where to start is hard and technology is constantly changing. No one's figured it out, so we all need to band together with kindness and release. Fiona teaches parents “This false notion of being a perfect parent. It’s such an unhealthy obsession - there is no such thing.”

One challenge that modern parents can find is that our lives are incredibly busy – work, school, clubs, study as well as health and wellbeing. Setting up a digitally safe home environment, for example, knowing how to change device settings, apply internet filters, can feel like something that is just ‘too much’ to think about until there is a problem. This often means that people don't change their behaviour until it's too late. Fiona explains, “You know you don't put the Internet filter on until you realise that your nine-year-old has stumbled onto pornography, or you don't start to monitor your child's mobile phone until you find photos of her wearing her sports bra posing for the camera.” At Screen Sanity, the team helps equip parents with tools, tips and tricks to navigate these difficult and often awkward conversations The Digital World and Wellbeing

One of the key pillars for Screen Sanity is creating healthy relationships with families and educators around the use of technology in the home and the schools. It can be easy to demonise technology and be tempted to try to implement technology bans and say ‘Well, I'm just not going to let them use an iPad.”

Fiona explains that it can help to remember that technology is such a powerful tool and it enhances our lives so greatly that we have to work with it. Even as simple as NAPLAN, they're now completing this on an iPad, so it is so important to understand how your children can be digitally capable, but also using technology conscientiously.

Screen Sanity works closely with e-Safety to teach parents and educators about ‘digital wellbeing’. This sits alongside digital competency and the ability for children to use computers, technology, iPads competently – it’s focusing on the safety component. Helping them to know how to use it, recognise when they are using it too much and link it to their holistic health and wellbeing.

What's been the most rewarding experience so far since starting the organisation?

Fiona explains that seeing parents empowered through accessible small changes help form the building blocks for further change - this makes a world of difference to their confidence as a guide and mentor to their children in this digital age. Parents often share that they find the workshops very understanding and empathetic. It's not about lecturing or about leading with fear,

IT’S ABOUT FINDING WAYS TO WORK TOGETHER TO CREATE NEW CULTURAL NORMS OF DIGITAL HEALTH, IF WE WANT OUR CHILDREN TO FLOURISH.

Looking for more? Join our house to be the first to read part 2 of House of Bimbi's Screen Sanity Series.

(@screensanity_australia) | www.screensanity.org.au


Screen Sanity Australia

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