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Luke Wohlgemuth for Fatherly

A Guide to Digital Mindfulness for Families

Modern mindfulness begins with good digital habits.

This story was produced in partnership with Google. For more tools and resources to help you navigate technology with your family, explore families.google.

Mindfulness is the coin of our age for good reason. What is more precious than some time alone with your thoughts? Very little, especially given the presence of digital devices. When you have your phone with you, you’re never alone. It’s all too easy for a quick social media check to take a relieving moment to yourself and turn it into a crowded flurry of strangers. In other words, you can’t have mindfulness today without digital mindfulness. But how to get there?

Incorporating digital mindfulness into your routine is a great first step. It’s also important to raise children with healthy digital lives. That means working on impulse control, spending time on high-quality websites, and generally leading a digital life that adds to, doesn’t detract from, their non-digital life. Here are five ways to start the path towards full digital mindfulness.

Track of the quantity and quality of screen time. Then set limits.

Mindlessly scrolling for hours on end? Bad. Using a computer to video chat with family, work on school assignments, or stay up to date on current events? Good. While parents might be tempted to go with the simplicity of a simple screen time limit, kids will feel more validated (and learn how to self-manage) more if you sit down as a family, look at how you’re spending time online, and come up with limits that everyone can agree on. Then, you can use tools like Google Family Link to set limits for specific apps and websites to keep the “five more minutes” temptation at bay.

Make the internet a tool for practicing mindfulness.

It’s easy for digital distractions to be an obstacle to mindfulness. Take push notifications.  They have been shown to negatively impact performance on cognitive tasks and exerted a negative influence on cognitive function and concentration. That’s why using the settings on your devices to limit them is so important. And if your kids have their own devices, it’s not a bad idea to sit down with them and do the same.

But the internet doesn’t have to be an obstacle to mindfulness. It can actually a valuable tool in practicing it for adults and kids alike. For instance, Practice mindfulness together as a family with Headspace’s Breathers series or the Sesame Street and Headspace Monster Meditations for your younger kids.

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Enforce a digital bedtime.

Lock down your family’s devices in the evening so that no one is tempted to go online when they should be sleeping. Phone time right before bed means blue light from screens hits the eyes, sends signals to the pineal gland, and leads to an increase in body temperature and heart rate, suppressing melatonin production and making it harder to get to sleep and wake up.

Kids who are well-rested can pay more attention to their schoolwork. Adults who are well-rested can, well, be more patient parents. And if you make everyone’s digital bedtime before their actual bedtime, the last waking hours of the day can be for reading, relaxing, and powering down before getting a better night’s sleep.

Schedule regular family-wide device-free family time.

Among the questions you should answer in a family conversation about when and how to use devices: when should everyone disconnect? It might be every night at dinner time, so you can discuss the events of everyone’s day. It might be Sunday mornings so you have time for your weekend rituals, be it visiting church, tending to the garden, or spending quality time together in other ways.

Once you’ve established these routines it should feel natural for everyone to spend time away from their devices, but if it’s isn’t you can always use parental controls and/or a handy drawer to ensure designated device-free time stays that way.

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Find positive places online.

The places you go to find positivity in the world and in other parts of culture typically have parallel online presences. If your kid love watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, visit the show’s website. If they’re into painting and drawing, visit the world’s museums virtually on Google Arts & Culture. Other sources of online positivity? Chatting with friends, checking out ebooks from the public library, and a library of learning videos for kids on YouTube Learning. By consciously building a roster of positive spaces online and making sure you and your kids spend a lot of your online time there, your online lives will stay positive.