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The importance of setting limits for technology

September 3rd, 2019

Back to school is often when students want to set the best intentions by promoting organization and time management skills. However, students are often faced with the challenges of adding extracurriculars, social events and sports along with their new classes and homework assignments. One of the biggest distractions for students is technology, making time management even more complex than ever before.

Many schools require the use of computers to complete assignments or for note taking and therefore, students often get distracted by content other than the given task. In today’s blog post, I wanted to share a writeup from a Transylvania University adjunct professor and good friend of mine, Karma Bryan. The article, titled Using Technology with Intention, is a great read for all ages. We rely so heavily on the use of technology and while it provides great benefits we should make sure we are using our time on screens wisely.

Article referenced below written by Karma Bryan

Using Technology with Intention 

Parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the problem of screen overuse, so much so that they are hiring screen-free parenting coaches to help wean their families off screens. There isn’t an official diagnosis for digital addiction, but parents may recognize signs including lack of control over screen use, loss of interest in other activities, video game preoccupation, interference with socialization, use of screen to mood boost, etc. Most alarming are studies that suggest a link between use of social media and problems with depression or anxiety in adolescents. Screen-free coaches help parents set limits on their own screen time to model healthy entertainment behaviors and help families reconnect with old fashioned play like pretend for parents of small children. These are great recommendations for weaning families with small children from unhealthy screen use, but parents of high school and college age kids may need a broader set of strategies that incorporate and respect the developmental needs of young adults. 

Last year, after nearly ten years teaching graduate college students online, using technology and with only a screen to interact with my students, I went back to the traditional classroom teaching undergraduate students. I was eager for real time class discussions with students face to face but I encountered a phenomenon described by college professors generally: students are distracted from engagement by cell phones and computers in the classroom. I could tell without seeing their screens that my students were distracted by content other than my lecture. Faculty tend to agree that besides the lure of surfing to social media during lectures, note taking with computers provides little benefit and may be less conducive to learning than pen and paper note taking.

After that first semester back in the traditional classroom, I decided to ban screens during class. The no screens in the classroom policy came with grade consequences that compelled compliance, but it didn’t improve the level of classroom interaction initially until we had an honest classroom discussion about the stress of technology, particularly social media in their lives. 

This discussion occurred during a class that I teach every semester called Lifetime Fitness and Wellness. The lecture topic was stress management and as a class we compiled a list of perceived stressors in their lives as college students. Social media and technology in general were in the top ten of perceived stressors and some expressed concern that they might not be able to control their level of video gaming. 

It occurred to me after that first no screen semester that bans without helping young people learn how to self-regulate their screen time is a missed opportunity and a little hypocritical. We expect them to demonstrate competence in these technologies that we seek to limit but they need to learn how to use these technologies wisely. I also felt a little insincere using power point and a projector to deliver my lectures while prohibiting them from using their computers to take notes. 

I think prohibiting computers and smart phones in the classroom is a good idea given the problem of distraction. And I got a good sense from my students that they know it is a problem. Awareness is a good start, but young people with still developing brains may need help to come up with strategies for screen self-regulation. The next time I teach the Wellness class in the fall, I plan to add class discussion on Using Technology with Intention including a problem-solving exercise to help students come up with strategies to avoid social media and gaming compulsion. Parents of teens can do the same with their own teens by finding teachable moments for dialogue around screen use. Teens and young adults have 

the cognitive ability to comprehend abstract concepts and are likely to appreciate the opportunity to develop decision making skills, but they may need our help to put it all together. 

Karma Bryan, RN, PhD, NCTTP is an adjunct professor at Transylvania University and a certified tobacco dependence treatment specialist.