Starting 2021 on the right foot: Ensure your digital wellbeing in the year ahead

By Chan Wern Shen
  • The first step to achieving better digital wellness is to be aware of your own current digital habits
  • Include your children in the process of setting up new rules – they’re more likely to follow them when they’ve had a say
  • Revisit old non-tech habits like reading books to give your eyes a rest from digital screens

Over the course of the last decade, our lives have changed significantly thanks to advances in technology. Terms like “hyper-connectivity” and “digital wellbeing” were seemingly non-existent, and daily tasks like paying for hawker food with your mobile phone or ordering groceries directly from your fridge were merely scenes from sci-fi movies.

But here we are in 2021, where all of these things are very real, and very intertwined with our daily lives. 

All in a day’s work

These days, you wake up to messages from your friends and family, browse through global news on your smartphone at breakfast, and watch your children dial into their online classes with their laptops. You get dressed and choose the fastest route to the office with your in-car GPS head unit, and listen to an audiobook while you wade through traffic. 

At the office, you quickly check up on the situation at home via the IP-connected CCTV, and pay for your parking with the council app. While you’re at it, you notice that some utility bills haven’t been paid, and quickly run through the usage details.

“That’s odd. This month’s bill is much higher,” you think to yourself as you hit the PAY NOW button. “I’ll have a chat with the kids later,” you remind yourself as you sip on your coffee while dialing into a conference call with your colleagues in Shanghai. 

At lunch hour, you decide to order in and browse through the endless delivery options on your phone. You can never be too sure these days with the rising number of daily COVID cases, and pull up the app to check on the latest updates in your area. Even though you’re not working in a red zone, you can never be too safe.

A little after four, you get a reminder telling you that your parents are coming over for dinner. Quickly you open up your condo management app, and pre-register them as visitors – “this will save them a lot of hassle,” you tell yourself with a slight nod while sending them the QR code over WhatsApp.

Just before you head home, you receive the notification that you’ve been waiting for all day – your new toy, an internet-connected smart vacuum robot has been delivered, and you can’t wait to get home to set it up.

When you get home, you notice your daughter looking a little upset. She had an exam today, so you log in to the school’s parent portal app, and see that she didn’t get the grades that she was expecting. “Maybe it’s because she’s been spending too much time online,” you ask yourself before you start with your pep talk.

Dinner is a pleasure, but you don’t want your parents driving so late at night – their vision isn’t what it used to be – so you call them a car to fetch them home. You pay for it with your e-wallet, and set a note to the driver, telling him to take the quickest route back.

As you get ready for bed, you catch up with the current events in the news. You reply to a few messages that you missed, and jot down a quick to-do for tomorrow. With the lights turned off, you rest your head down and close your eyes.

But just as you start drifting asleep, you hear the faint sounds of speaking in the background. Your daughter must be online even after she’s supposed to be asleep…

The Quest for Digital Wellness

The whole notion of “Digital Wellness” was borne from days like the one that we just described. As Google themselves once said, “when technology becomes integral to almost everything that we do, it would eventually distract us from the things that matter the most”.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, and increasingly, see this becoming more apparent. So much so, that one of the driving forces behind the creation of Audra HomeShield was to provide parents like yourself with easy access to the cornerstones of digital wellness.

With Audra HomeShield, you’ll be able to:

  • Manage the amount of screen time being used in your household
  • Manage the type of content that can be accessed 
  • Understand the usage habits of people in your household
  • Protect your internet connected devices from external threats

But what really is “digital wellness” and why is it so important?

Simply put, digital wellness refers to the state of your physical and mental health in today’s digital age. Because we’re so wired, research shows that our digital lifestyle makes us more susceptible to issues like anxiety, addiction and depression.

What we see as time saving or convenient on the surface could trigger dependency issues, an impedance to our critical and creative thinking, and also introduce a host of physical ailments like damaged vision, spinal problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Worst still, these issues do not exclusively affect adults. An alarming number of children are also showing symptoms of internet addiction, gadget dependency and the accompanying physical repercussions that come with them.

Being digitally well doesn’t just revolve around knowing how to identify what’s bad for you. It’s about adapting and overcoming digital dependence, making technology work for you, and ultimately, about finding the right balance for you and your family between the real world and the digital one.

Steps to ensure digital wellness in 2021

  • Be aware of your own habits

Before you can fix an issue, you first need to understand what you’re up against. Although it may not seem like it, your children are very aware of how much time you spend on your screens. As children do, they will gauge your screen dependency as the “acceptable amount”, and will often challenge you when you try to discipline them for overuse.

In fact, up to 27% of children say that their parents have double standards when it comes to how much screen time they’re allowed to have.

From checking our phones for messages the moment we wake up, to sneaking a peek at the dinner table during meals, not to mention, the fact that we would binge watch an entire Netflix for eight hours straight – these are some of the notable cues that children will pick up on and use them against you. More importantly, they may turn out to be the cracks showing in the relationship between the parent and the child.

“Children are not stupid, children are brilliant amazing little creatures that pick up on your nonverbal cues, more than verbal cues, and they will do what they see 100% of the time,” says child and family development specialist, Rachael Kwacz

“Not only that, your kids will call you out on lots of stuff, when you’re using your phone or the Internet when you shouldn’t, and as parents, we often proclaim ourselves an exception to the rule because we were the ones who set it.”

It starts with you, and the values that you instill into their minds. 

  • Create the rules together

After almost a year of e-learning, your children probably have their own devices and have formed their own set of usage patterns. Whether you like it or not, 2020 has allowed them to be more exposed to the internet than you probably know. But now that school is scheduled to reopen, we’re pretty sure that you’re thinking of restricting their internet usage.

In situations like this, it’s important that you include them into the process of creating the new rules. By giving them a say in how long they should be allowed every day, they are more likely to feel that their opinion is appreciated, and in turn, more inclined to follow the law of the house.

However, we understand that it’s not always that easy, and created the Daily Limit by Hours feature on Audra HomeShield to help you enforce these agreed limits.

To set this feature up through the Audra Management App:

  1. Navigate to the Set Internet Limit menu
  2. Scroll down to Daily Limit by Hours and set the amount of hours with the slider
  3. Activate the feature and tap Save
  4. Audra will automatically track your child’s internet usage and enforce the daily limit once it is reached
  5. Be intentional with your daily proceedings

As the country gets back into gear in 2021, our children will start going back to school, and we will see ourselves start venturing out from our home offices more and more. This would mean that the daily routines (or lack of) that we had set up over the better part of 2020 are in for a sudden change.

Use this opportunity positively to rebuild your daily habits. While you don’t need to have a detailed plan for each day of the week, ensure that you’re aware of what you need to achieve in any given day, so that you can keep your digital activity accountable.

For example, if you need to be out of the house by 7.30am in order to get your children to school on time but can’t forgo your daily ritual of reading the news headlines over coffee, then block out the necessary time on a daily basis in order to achieve both of these tasks.

This might mean cutting short your usual TV time at night, or stopping yourself from doomscrolling your social feed in bed to get enough sleep to operate properly the next day.

In cases like this, features like Bed Time in Audra HomeShield might be just as effective in helping you as it would be for your children.

To set this feature up through the Audra Management App:

  1. Navigate to the Set Internet Limit menu
  2. Tap on the Bed Time feature as set the time which internet connectivity should cut off and reactivate
  3. Activate the feature and tap Save
  4. Audra will automatically enforce Bed Time at the set hours and resume internet connectivity after they have passed

  • Revisit your forgotten no-tech habits

When’s the last time you actually flipped the pages of a book as opposed to swiping across a screen, or hitting play for the next chapter of an audio book? Do you remember the last time you picked up on a headline that wasn’t on the wrapper of your nasi lemak? 

While these may be “old school” habits, they provide you with a short escape from the clutches of your digital devices. Besides that, a return to the analog versions of your favorite hobbies also give you a chance to actually concentrate and relax – free from annoying notifications, pop-ups or alarms.

Reading a book also has the fringe benefit of keeping your vision in check. Jeff Taylor, Medical Director for YourSightMatters.com tells us in this article that, “Normally, we blink about 15 times per minute, but this rate decreases by half when we are staring at our smartphone. As we squint to read these miniature screens, our facial, neck and shoulder muscles tighten, eyes become fatigued and vision can be blurred or strained.”

  • Rekindle human connections

Although social distancing is still going to be a big part of 2021’s culture, this doesn’t mean that your human connections need to continue suffering. For starters, think about the human connections between you and your children – are they as strong as they were pre-lockdown? 

Have the extended hours in close proximity enriched the relationship with your family members? Or has this forced time together simply made you more comfortable with zone out into your own world in front of them?

If it’s the latter, then your household is in danger of falling into disarray. Rachael Kwacz tells us that, “if your children don’t feel seen or heard at home, they’re going to look for this stimulus in other places, such as their peer groups or online. But if they feel connected at home, he or she is able to have a healthy conversation with the parents, and work together as a team to keep the whole family safe.”

Do what works for you

To tell you that this isn’t a definitive list of must-do’s would be an understatement. The simple fact is that we’re all programmed differently, have different habits and have different tolerances to our digital devices. This makes the need to understand digital wellness all the more important, and we hope that this blog post can help you to realize the importance of embracing a digital balanced lifestyle.

If you have any suggestions or tips on how we can all achieve better balance in our lives, please do let us know your thoughts on Facebook.

Stay tuned to the Audra blog to learn more about digital wellness, internet addiction, gadget dependency, and also how Audra HomeShield can find a place in your home.

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health with Social Media

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health with Social Media

Words by Celeste Goh

Even before the global pandemic had us on lockdown in April with nowhere else to turn to but our mobile devices, an estimated 3.81 billion people were already on social media. Unsurprisingly, it is widely believed that extended use of social media can cause negative effects, but the numbers could surprise you.

In a recent survey, 25% of surveyed adolescents agreed that social media had a mostly negative effect, with 13% of those aged between 12 and 17 reporting depression, and 32% reporting anxiety. In the 18 to 25 age range, 25% of them reported that they were suffering from some form of mental illness. To top it off, 72% of the surveyed respondents admitted that they have been cyberbullied at some point.

This undoubtedly, led researchers to suggest that “this increase in mental illness is, at least in part, connected to the rise of social media use among adolescents and young adults.” 

“I work with a lot of teenagers, and they usually come in and talk about body image issues because of social media,” clinical psychologist Thong Shu Yi mentions. “There was a time when you just go to school and compare yourself to the few other people at school, but now the kids are faced with criticisms from the entire world, which can make you feel really bad about yourself.”

We speak with Shu Yi further on how parents and adults dealing with the younger generations can protect their mental health when it comes to interacting on social media.

Understand how social media works as a reflection of a projected world

Before parents or adults can protect the younger generations from the negativity of the internet, they must first minimise the gap between the generations, by learning to understand or perceive the internet world or social media the same way as the younger generations.

Shu Yi states that by the time we – the Gen-Xers and those before – are introduced to it, we are already older, and we have already had a taste of our own reality offline. Whereas for the younger generations, they exist in a world in which the internet and social media are very much present, and could very well be the reality to them.

“How we look at [the internet and social media] is very different to the younger generations, and it makes it harder for them to separate what is real and what is posted on social media. To them, what’s posted online equals reality,” she explains. “To us, it’s common sense that what’s online is not reality, but to these kids, they actually need to be shown and taught that it’s not reality. They need to be guided that there is another world beyond that.”

“By first having that understanding, it will allow us to empathise with the younger generations more,” she adds. “When we’re able to empathise with them, then they will feel like they can listen to us, rather than dismissing us by saying: ‘you don’t understand’.”

Be mindful of who you follow on social media

Part of the reason why we are so caught up in scrolling through social media mindlessly, is to do with validation. Shu Yi mentions that ironically, it’s a basic human instinct to not want to be wrong; and when we feel sad or anxious, we will always look for things to confirm what we are feeling, and people who feel the same what we are feeling to let us know we are not alone in all of this: “We take to the internet with the desire to seek understanding of ourselves, what we are going through.”

Thanks to the internet, children these days are more resourceful. When they have questions, they don’t go to their parents anymore; they go online. Therefore, it’s very important the kind of information they get, for the severity of how negative thoughts manifest themselves, really depends on what kind of resources they are getting to understand those thoughts.

“Rather than taking [social media] away from the children, it would be better to teach them how to screen profiles,” Shu Yi advises. “If someone wants to follow you, before you approve, you might want to check the person’s profile, and see if there are any red flags they should be mindful of.”

“At the end of the day, adolescents are looking for role models, especially at their age, and you don’t want to stop them from doing that by forbidding them from getting an Instagram account,” she continues. “We can instead help them identify which people they should follow to empower themselves.”

Comments from others are more of themselves than us

The more time we spend on social media being active and vocally involved in what we see, the more susceptible we are to negative comments from people out there who may not necessarily agree to our point of view on things. It is even more so for children and adolescents who have yet to come into themselves, and who are constantly seeking for relevance and understanding from the internet; due to their vulnerability, they are more open to attacks online.

According to Shu Yi, adults can educate kids and teenagers that whenever they hear someone say something negative to them, rather than very quickly absorbing that as the truth, they might stop and think that maybe what the commenters said isn’t really about them.

“When kids use certain vulgar words on purpose to hurt the other kids, they have to be victims of those words themselves,” she explains. “They are people who are wounded, and they have to carry within them all these emotions, and they don’t know how to express them so they become angry.”

“Bullying is a thread: if I’m bullied, then I will feel I want to bully another person, and that person will want to bully the next, so on and so forth,” Shu Yi adds. “If we can help the younger generations understand that when somebody says mean things to them, it just means that the ones saying them are hurting as well. This way, the bullying won’t continue on.”

Take ownership of your social media accounts

Countering these negative comments from strangers on social media is as easy as familiarising yourself with the privacy functions available on each platform. The functionalities of blocking, deleting and unfollowing certain profiles come in handy in situations like these, and everyone needs to be empowered to do so.

“The younger generations might think that if they unfollow or block certain friends, what would their friends think of them? This is where the adults come in – the parents, older siblings and teachers. We should teach them that it’s their right and prerogative,” Shu Yi says. “At the end of the day, it’s our social media account. If we think someone is being mean to us, and they are affecting how we feel, then it’s our prerogative to block or unfollow those people.”

Shu Yi also advises that for parents with children met with negativities online, especially from people they know, they should first and foremost pay attention to their own children: “Sometimes, out of wanting to protect their kids, parents may be quick to call on the school, or the other kid’s parents on how he/she is behaving. However, to the kids, it might translate as an embarrassment, rather than protection.” 

“Instead, the parents can focus on the child’s wellbeing: how they are impacted by the incident, how it makes them feel, how the parents should emphasise with their children, and what they can do to help their children begin the process of healing,” she adds.

Take a break once in a while to keep ourselves in check

Since the popularity of the internet grew in the 1980s and early 1990s, which eventually led to the creations of interactive computer-mediated technologies that we have come to know today as social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and many more, we have inadvertently developed a relationship with our gadgets. Pair that with the advances of mobile devices to make it more convenient for us to be constantly connected online, the gadgets have somehow become a friend that’s stuck onto our palms, and that we cannot put down.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with being connected to what’s happening around us all the time, it is when we are not mindful of how much time we spend scrolling through our social media feeds, that we may gravitate to things that make us feel worse. This is what many these days may call “doomscrolling”, an act of consuming an endless procession of negative online news. It is also a word that has gained popularity and awareness during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially when countries go into lockdowns, and many have nothing else to turn their attention to at home but to the news feeds on our social media.

Shu Yi mentions that while it is very difficult to take some time off digitally, we may be able to sidestep the negativities online by enriching our life beyond the virtual one: “If you notice that when you’re busy, or if you’re having a very engaging conversation with a friend, you don’t actually think about your phone or wanting to scroll through your social media feeds. That’s because you are entertained by what is in front of you.”

“When we want to take some time off our gadgets, we need to make sure that we’re doing something that gives us joy,” she adds.

Whether it’s joining the “lockdown trends” of baking burnt cheesecakes or sourdough breads, joining Zoom yoga or workout sessions; or just simply reviving offline pastimes you have been putting off every time because of your busy schedule, such as reading, gardening or journaling – anything that brings you joy is helpful, because it takes your mind off the phone while you’re engaging in such activities.

“The worst thing a child imagines they can feel is to be bored, and parents need to teach their kids how to keep themselves occupied beyond the only world that they grew up knowing – the digital world,” Shu Yi says. “Creating activities for them is always very useful, even for the adults. It relaxes your mind, and your energy is focused on the activity.”

“I do think that once in a while, we need to come back to what’s in front of us, so that we don’t disappear into the virtual world,” she adds.