Supporting New Digital Natives: Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in a Hi-Tech Age
Michelle Jayman, Maddie Ohl, and Leah Jewett, eds. 2021. Bristol University Press. [ISBN 978-1-4473-5645-5. 210 pages, including index. US$45.95 (softcover).]
Mental wellness and digital technology are traditionally not viewed as collaborative partners, especially in youth development. The negative aspects of digital technology include cyberbullying, inappropriate visualcontent, social media competition, and the (sometimes) misconception of “too much screen time.” However, nobody can dispute that exposure to technology is unavoidable—from online homework to discussion groups on Zoom, students are required to have an email address in early elementary school. With the new reality of technology-savvy younger children, it is critical to figure out the implementation of it for maximum benefits/fewest risks and how to impose critical boundaries. To this end, Supporting New Digital Natives: Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in a Hi-Tech Age was compiled in ten chapters with sources at the end of each chapter, a section on the background of the contributors, a glossary, and index. The editors selected eight case studies by health care providers, teachers, and mental health professionals/researchers to approach mental wellness from a complex wholistic landscape rather than examining any one influencing factor.
“These eight case studies were selected because of their original contributions, each focusing on different aspects of CYP’s (children and young people) lives which are inextricably linked to mental wellbeing, such as friendships and relationships, play and learning experiences, and opportunities for connecting with nature and the community. More than this, each chapter is a platform for raising CYP’s voice, rightly placing them, as experts in their own lives, at the heart of mental wellbeing interventions and services” (p. xxx).
Ironically, the first case study on supporting new digital natives (as the title states) introduces a pyramid club that removes children from all technology and places them in an intentional support group—an environment where they can practice relationship building in a supportive place. For ten weeks, kids meet with other kids who either lack social skills and/or have trouble with friendships. During these ten weeks, the kids do activities targeted toward connection, building teamwork, and creating a safe space like arts and crafts, food preparation and sharing, and circle time. This approach contrasts with the next case study in which Book of Beasties is used to explore how to get children to build virtual friendships through an online card game. “Children learn best in interactive environments which invite them in as interactive collaborators and include content which is meaningful to them” (p 96).
One of the common negatives associated with digital technology is the reduction of outdoor play for children—this is the basis of Forest School and Girlguiding. These case studies look at the effects of nature on the mental wellbeing of youth and the importance of building a support community. In the girlguiding study, the implementation of digital technology has improved some of the programs and the girls are encouraged to use the technology if it helps them.
One of the final case studies introduces LifeMosaic—an app for a smartphone that tracks various data points that might help children understand their mental health better. For example, after tracking sleep and diet they might see the link between poor eating habits and poor sleep quality—and their overall mood as a result. The app allows children to design their own study and then plot graphs and charts which can be shared within their online LifeMosaic community.
All these studies describe either the use of technology to enhance mental wellbeing or the intentional removal of technology to eliminate a technology-driven issue—the intersection of which is a balance the new digital natives of our generation will be forced to eventually navigate themselves.
Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.