How to help students unplug

How to help students unplug

Students and the digital world

We live, not wholly in the digital, not wholly in the physical, but in a kind of minestrone our mind makes of these two worlds

- Paola Antonelli

The above quote sums up the digital addiction situation pithily. Digital detox is a term being tossed up in conversations with a tinge of despair and panic ever so often. When we say detox, we mean that we are looking to cut out something which is actually toxic. Is this a fair description of the effect of digital media? Can ‘media use’ be termed as extraneous and therefore something which can be happily lopped off from our daily life? I would say an emphatic NO. We cannot do without technology and all that it offers. What we can do is to take back the steering of our life from the strong tentacles of digital devices.

Digital addiction is real

I am a victim of a major disease called FOMO (fear of missing out). I cannot resist that one last time pull to check messages and posts. I feel the need to seriously reprimand myself before reaching for that palm-sized gizmo which will connect me to cousins thrice removed or other far-flung family strains crawling back into the privacy of my space and my time. This is how addictions happen. Digital addiction is a real thing and any addiction is detrimental to our health. Every new notification triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes one want to keep going back for more. 

Disconnect to connect wisely

If you are the parents of youngsters who are in middle school or high school, a reality check is important. Ingrained habits can be hard to change and resistance will be fierce, with arguments, mood swings and even revolt. What needs to be communicated face to face is that time out from smartphones, tablets, laptops will be a family challenge which each individual will respect and adhere to. Leading by example is always wise. “We have a rule” grins Raghav, a student of Class 9, “No cell phones allowed at the dining table during meal time or it gets confiscated for a length of time.” Even his mother, who is a busy gynaecologist, allows her calls to go to voicemail when she is resting. Cell phones have no business to be on our bed. The radiation from it can mess with our sleep patterns. 

Voice your concern

It is simpler, to be honest upfront and spell out what your concerns are about their indiscriminate use or excessive hours on digital demons. Chandini, a mother and teacher, feels it is wiser to seek their help in finding a solution for the pressing problem rather than lay down rules. “I have to show that I trust them to be reasonable and work out a plan for gradual detuning from devices and gizmos.” 

Parents are constantly worried about their wards being inadvertently exposed to cyberbullying, addiction to zillion apps which promise virtual adventure, excitement and thrill of distractions galore, imprisoning the social being within. A growing concern for educators and parents is poor communication skills and social skills in the youth. The only way to address this is by suggesting interesting alternatives like pursuing a hobby, forming cub civic action groups, joining a sports club, frequent family outings, hiking with friends...anything to reconnect with life and all its wonders.     

It is imperative to focus on the positives of disconnecting from dependency, like controlling the device instead of being controlled by it, so as to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Help them identify and uninstall programmes which have them hooked but leaves them feeling frustrated and stressed. Many YouTube feeds and online challenges can leave one feeling mentally and emotionally wrung out. The question is how to come out of this dangerous labyrinth. One small step would be to disable the notification button for social media apps, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and news sites. No alerts. No temptations. 

A brisk walk in the morning may not be possible for school goers. Early evening is good enough. Find a ‘detox buddy’ who will help you stay away from your digi friends. Jog, run, hit the gym, swim or just stroll and chat. Believe me, the nagging headaches and neck pain because of strain and stress will ease off.    

Let us be realistic here. We cannot wish away our addiction. It has to be phased out. A good way would be to limit the use of gadgets and set a timer. For those who have better control may be a longer period of abstinence would work, say only during weekends. Of course, such remarkable determination deserves a reward. An age-appropriate reward can be worked out to reinforce responsible behaviour. It could be having a friend over or visiting one, catching a movie, shopping or even a discreet amount of extra chat time.

Detox on campus

Given that eight precious hours are spent in school, it is heartening to know that many schools have specific tech-free zones where students and staff are not permitted to use their cells, tablets or laptops. The school lunchroom is one such place and so too the playground. Many schools require staff and students to deposit their phones at the front desk for the duration of school hours. 

Educational institutions now recognise this exercise as being something more than just a method to maintain discipline or avoid distractions in school, but that it should be encouraged to extend to after school hours too. A school in Bengaluru recently launched a digital detox championship and recorded good results with students showing admirable adherence to the detoxing regime which they designed for themselves. The winner was the student who had clocked maximum hours of distancing or disconnection from digital gadgets. That is one interesting way to use gaming for damage control.

The data deluge and the steady influx of new and better technology which hit us each day do not allow for disconnecting from our devices. Technology is meant to work for us and that is how it should be. We need to take control of our lives and create a barrier between real life and the virtual world which simulates, but can never stimulate like the real world peopled by real people.