In Conversation with Digital Nutritionist Jocelyn Brewer

In Conversation with Digital Nutritionist Jocelyn Brewer


With a passion for the psychology of technology, Jocelyn Brewer retrained as a psychologist and moved out of teaching in secondary schools into the role of School Counsellor. She has created the concept of Digital Nutrition – a framework for teaching principles of a healthy, sustainable relationship to technology, which was awarded the 2014 NSW Premiers Teaching Scholarship for Health Education. We chatted with Jocelyn about how teens apply Digital Nutrition to social media usage.

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  1. Can you tell us a bit about the Digital Nutrition concept and why you have created this framework?Digital Nutrition came out of me noticing the rise in the conversations about digital detox and the need to regain control around our use of technology.  It’s about reclaiming the way we think about our digital world and technology habits – rather than it being about restriction or detoxing (which gives the sense that its somewhat poisonous and of overdosing) its about proactively designing a relationship with tech that is healthy and sustainable.Digital Nutrition borrows from the thinking around food nutrition and what makes a healthy, balanced diet and applies these concepts to how we consume information and ideas digitally though our devices and social media.  We can think of some online activities as being more ‘nutritious’ from a social, psychological and cognitive perspective and others being more a like a ‘junk’ foods – those best consumed less often and with an understanding of the impacts of over-eating.Digital Nutrition is important in that it recognises how valuable technology is as a tool when used mindfully and in a meaningful way – to maximise the benefit and avoid the pitfalls and digital dramas.
  1. How can parents and teachers support digitally nutritious lives for teens?I encourage parents and educators to refrain from perpetuating the sense there is a divide between young people’s use of technology and their own.  Sure, some adults don’t have the skills and might not ‘get’ how to use technology nor why it’s so important to young people – but I see that as an opportunity to connect and communicate about the experiences and capabilities that young people have online.Giving people choices and guidance on how to shape their online worlds is important, empowering young people with information and knowledge to keep themselves safe is a key to effective learning.Schools and parents need to work co-operatively to provide the guidelines and information on how to use technology and online activities in ways that contributes to their learning and wellbeing.  Importantly, adults should be aware of the way that their own use of technology is role modelled to young people and keep a check of their own technology habits and behaviours.
  1. What are some of the benefits of social media consumption and how do these stack up against the risks?It’s a lot to do with the thoughts and feelings that go with the use of social media. It’s not as simple as how long you go online or on social media for, or how often you check, but the context and function of the checking.  There are lots of reasons we use our smartphones or social media accounts, when these are reasons start having negative impacts or creating distress it’s time to start changing our habits and behaviours.Just like with many activities we engage in, from driving cars to drinking alcohol, there are both risks and benefits. Much media attention on young people and Internet use focuses on and misinterprets risks, generating fear and misinformation about the benefits to young people
  1. What does a positive and sustainable relationship with social media look like?Think of it in the same way that you might think of healthy food, you know what healthy food looks like and you can tune in and notice when you’re full (or if you’ve eaten too much) – the same way you develop the skills to recognise how what you look at and think on line impacts your feelings and other aspects of your life (like study).Three key aspects of Digital Nutrition are: mindful, meaningful, moderate.Mindful in that you are present to your actions, you have awareness of and responsibility over your activities on line and how these impact not just other aspects of your life but other people too.Meaningful in that you have a sense of purpose and clarity in regard to what you’re reading, commenting on or participating in.  That the activities contribute, even in a small way, to your goals and values.Moderate in that you’re able to regulate and temper your habits and usage, and avoid negative impacts across other aspects of your life.  The activities are balanced and like in Goldilocks done in amounts that are ‘just right’!
  1. How can the candy be sorted from the kale in terms of social media networks?Again it’s not so much the network or platform you’re using but the intention and goals of what you’re using it for.  Some ‘junk food’ on occasion is OK, but if eating the treat comes with guilt or negative thoughts then we need to consider those thoughts – not just the activity.  To be able to do that we need to develop the ability to ‘tune in’ and be present to our feelings and think through positive and helpful ways to engage with activities online.Increasingly there are better ways to credential and review the apps and games we use and the provision of more nuanced and qualified evaluations of not just the popularity but the social, emotional and cognitive skills which are required when using them.  Sometimes young people really benefit from the input of the ‘adult lens’ being cast over the social media platforms they use in order to point out possible issues which might not create safe spaces or habits for young people.


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