How To Cultivate a Healthy Mind: A Fun 7-Step Object Lesson
It seems that every day there is another alarming headline about negative mental health issues facing kids and teens. They range from attention difficulties, skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression, and unhealthy views of sexuality due to pornography usage. The truth is these poor mental health outcomes often have a common denominator—unhealthy digital habits.
Empowering parents: Take charge of what goes into your child’s mind
With the siren call of harmful and addictive content beckoning kids of all ages, parents know they have to play an essential role in what goes into their child’s mind. However, they often don’t know how to cultivate a healthier mindset in their kids.
We’re here to help with a fun “junk drawer” object lesson! Drawing inspiration from actor and YouTuber Rajiv Surendra, we’re challenging parents to do an object lesson with your child that demonstrates how to cultivate a healthy mind. Just like a junk drawer can get cluttered, our minds can also become cluttered with stuff that creates messes in our brains. Here’s a fun and effective way to help your child keep their minds clear, clean and healthy!
DYM Brain and Body Safety Challenge:
Cultivate a healthy mind with an object lesson
Step 1: The visual metaphor—messy drawers and cluttered minds
Pull out a messy drawer. You know, the one that started as a place to toss random stuff that you didn’t quite know where else to put, and then it became overrun with rubber bands, coupons, broken pens, leftover arcade tokens, batteries, etc. You get the picture. Tell your child that this drawer represents their mind and that similar to a physical drawer, their mind collects both positive and negative items from the digital world. You could take a picture of it to provide a before-and-after once the exercise is over.
Step 2: A Marie Kondo moment—analyze usefulness
Lay out every item on the table. Pick up each one, and in Marie Kondo fashion consider its usefulness to your family. Is it broken? Has its purpose been utilized and now it’s just taking up space? Are there multiples of something where just one or two would suffice? Really analyze the usefulness of each object.
Make this a tactile experience. Have your child pull the rubber band to see if it still has stretch. Have them test the random batteries for a charge. If they are dead, put them in a discard pile. Have your child try all the pens in the drawer to see which ones they prefer to write with.
Have them rank the pens from favorite to least favorite. Ask them if they will always reach for the ones that write the way they prefer, and not use the others. Have them put any pens that are out of ink and the ones that don’t perform the way they like into the discard pile. Do this with each item.
Step 3: Reflection and awareness—making connections
Refer back to your child’s mental drawer, and encourage them to “empty” it by reflecting on their digital activities. You could ask questions like: What websites do they visit? What apps do they use? What content do they consume? This will help them become more aware of what is entering their mental drawer.
You could also ask what their goals are in several areas of life such as knowledge, physical, and social. Make connections to their goals throughout the exercise. Here are some examples:
- Knowledge: Point out that while several of the pens from the physical drawer could write, only some of them did it well. Similarly, there is a lot of content to consume on the internet, but only high-quality content will help them reach their knowledge goals, instead of mindless reels. An even better way to improve their mind is by reading books.
- Physical: To make a comparison to their physical goals, discuss how too much time spent on screens may cause them to neglect the exercise their bodies need to be strong.
- Social: Discuss how excessive screen time takes away time they could spend building friendships.
Step 4: Learning and growing—recording observations
Record what they discard and why, and talk about how they can learn from it. Maybe they learn that a particular brand of pen was cheap and the ink never flowed well, or they don’t like the color.
Now you know to only bring pens into your home that bring the desired outcome. Write these observations down as a reminder to intentionally select what goes in the drawer. Use fancy paper and write with one of the nice pens to reinforce that only the best things can be used. Keep it in the drawer as a reminder.
Make another list on a separate piece of paper that includes the goals they identified. Record their observations about what digital activities are keeping them from their goals, as well as which ones help to achieve them. Display this list somewhere visible such as near a computer screen.
Step 5: Cleansing the drawer—a digital detox for the mind
Now turn your attention to the drawer itself. Ask your child if it’s ready for the items from the keep pile to be returned, or if it needs cleaning. More than likely it has bits of dirt, crumbs, and scuff marks. Points to discuss:
- Remind your child that this drawer represents their brain, and they only get one, so they have to take care of it.
- Teach them that the debris in the drawer is like online content that harms them, like pornography. To emphasize the point, take a handful of dirt and demonstrate how it negatively affects the brain by tossing it into the drawer, helping your child visualize the impact of pornography. Point out that the dirt seems to find a way into each corner. Pornography is like that and harms the mind in many ways.
- For age-appropriate ways to discuss the harms of pornography with your child, you could read with them Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Minds (ages 7-12), or Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds (ages 3-6).
- Explain that just as the physical drawer needed cleansing, their mind benefits from digital detox practices like meditation, mindfulness, and engaging in positive activities.
Have them get a soapy rag and clean out the debris. Alternatively, a fun way for kids to clean is with foamy shaving cream.
Step 6: Curate with purpose—Establish guidelines for healthy online habits
Turn your attention to the objects that you chose to keep. Point out that these have some dirt on them and it wouldn’t make sense to put dirty items into the clean drawer. Then wipe down each object before returning them to the drawer. Ask them what could help the drawer stay more organized. Perhaps some drawer organizers will help everything to have a place.
Now comes the crucial step of curating their mental drawer's content. Work together to establish guidelines for their online experiences. Here are some discussion ideas for this step:
- Discuss what types of content are safe, educational, and aligned with their values and goals.
- You can link the organizers to time blocks. Time is limited, so fill it with activities that align with your goals. If they put things into blocks of time that don’t achieve their goals, then their mind clutters and growth stagnates.
- While placing items back, prioritize the most important in the largest section. Emphasize filling the mind with the most important things first. Highlight how less important things will go into the smaller compartments.
When you are finished, take a picture and compare it to the before picture. Discuss the contrast and the positive difference of the clean drawer.
Step 7: Maintaining a healthy mindset
Have regular check-ins. Every week or so, have your child check the physical drawer to see if some tidying can be done. As you do this, remind them to evaluate their mental drawer. Ask them about their digital experiences since your last check-in. This creates an open channel for them to share what they've encountered online, ask questions, and receive guidance. Empower them to actively choose what goes into their mental drawer and to say “no” to content that is contrary to their values and goals.
A resilient mind
By embracing this fun and engaging challenge, you're not just curating a cleaner mental drawer; you’re empowering your child to be the architect of their mental space, fortifying them with a resilient mind against the debris and dangers of the digital age. It’s a small investment with immeasurable returns.
Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition
"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent