What relationship do you want to have with social media?
While, of course, social media has its benefits, it has also taken over young people’s relationships and is constructing their daily reality—homework, weekend plans, flirting, friendship, their sense of self and belonging—all within a system that is designed to capture and monetize our attention.
The social media platforms that youth use everyday have built a multi-billion dollar attention extraction economy that profits by keeping us scrolling, clicking, and watching. The result is a system that creates addiction, self-obsession, misinformation, serious mental health issues, content that outrages and polarizes, and the replacement of real-world, connected relationships. Children are feeling some of the worst effects of this broken attention economy, and we need urgent action.
What you can do
Write to your principal, PTA chair, or parents
Because so many educators, PTA groups, and parents are concerned about how technology is affecting children, one of the easiest, strongest ways you can help is to write to them. To save you time, we’ve provided simple draft language for your principal, PTA chair, or parents.
We offer the guidelines below in the hope that they will help parents who are feeling overwhelmed trying to navigate the amount of technology used in our children’s lives, and in our own. To make technology more of a tool for well-being, rather than a hindrance.
While CHT works to fundamentally transform the tech industry, right now youth, families and schools face daily struggles with existing technology. Here are some great organizations working in this space:
Delaying Social Media
Smartphones and social media can overwhelm the human limits of a young mind: the ability to focus, to delay gratification, to form identity, form meaningful relationships, and to maintain mental health. We highly recommend that communities delay the introduction and use of smartphones/social media in young people’s lives. Please also remember that you can delete problematic apps altogether.
The Wait Until 8th pledge is an effective way for parents to stave off smartphone peer pressure by rallying together, classroom by classroom, to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade.
Gabb Wireless is a wireless network and phone provider that offers a first phone for kids that includes unlimited talk and text, with a camera, calendar, FM radio and so forth...but no Internet, games, social media, app store, picture messages or group texts. If you feel that your child must have a phone but want to delay problematic apps, this month-by-month service is a good choice.
Relating to Your Children's Experience of Technology
Common Sense Media—if you’re looking for a better understanding of what your children are doing on their phones, Common Sense Media addresses many concerns in their Parents Need to Know guide. We recommend beginning with their video, Truth about Tech, in which teens talk about how technology design affects them. The site explains and reviews popular apps your children might be using and how to set controls on them.
Screenagers and LIKE are two documentaries that address parts of this issue. Their websites offer curated resources, including Screenagers’s weekly Tech Talk Tuesday newsletter, in which Dr. Delaney Ruston shares conversation starters from a physician’s perspective about social media, video game use, tech tips, latest research, and more.
Managing Gaming Addiction
Gaming companies may be the most adept at creating persuasive technologies that exploit human vulnerabilities. If excessive gaming is getting in the way of your or your child’s life, here are some powerful resources:
Gamequitters—this powerful video game addiction support system helps people quit gaming and take their lives back, while also supporting families struggling with game addiction. This resource is proven to work if your child or partner actually wants to game less. The site features affordable step by step programs as well as free resources and hundreds of supportive articles, videos and podcast episodes.
Family Exercise: The Empty Glass—Dr. Michael Rich is a Harvard University pediatrician and the founder of the Center on Media and Child Health. His podcast, Ask the Mediatrician, answers questions about media’s influence on children’s health. He shares this helpful exercise:
“Based on the latest research, I recommend that children, teens and their parents sit down together and actively approach their 24 hour day as valuable time to be used in ways that support a healthy lifestyle.
Thinking of their day as an empty glass, they should fill it with the essentials; enough sleep to grow and avoid getting sick, school, time to spend outdoors, play, socialize, do homework, and to sit down for one meal a day together as a family (perhaps the single most protective thing you can do to keep their bodies and minds healthy). Once these activities are totaled, remaining time can be used for other experiences that interest the child, such as the activity in question (Minecraft, Fortnite etc.)”
Instead of asking “Do you like that game/app?” Ask: “How does that game/app make you feel?” This allows us to separate the focus from how much time we’re spending on something vs. how it impacts us on a human level.
Both academic and social learning is jeopardized by the presence of phones in schools.
Away for The Day provides parents, teachers, school leaders, and concerned individuals tools so that you can go to your school and help institute policies where phones are put away for the day.
Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
As technology companies know more and more about us with every click and scroll, it is essential that we help the next generation win the race to know themselves. We are big advocates for the SEL movement as a way of arming young people with a fighting chance to have healthy relationships with technology.
Communicating behind a screen seems to obscure our ability to empathize with one another, and has invited new forms of bullying. Importantly, research shows (Divecha, Brackett, 2019) that the best approach to reducing bullying’s impact includes the adoption of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs, see above.
As human beings, we are very prone to bias, and social media has poured gas on this fire. We are seeing rising cross-partisan hatred and an “us versus them” attitude that motivates people to accept the worst possible version of the other side’s beliefs, and the most flattering version of their own. These visions are distorted and counterproductive to learning and growth.
OpenMind Platform provides a set of tools which universities and other organizations can use to depolarize their communities.
Many schools have integrated technology into their systems without understanding persuasive design, and before the harms of these products were well-known. Here are some recommendations to re-evaluate.
CHT’s Administrative Recommendations: 1. Integrate SEL, Mindfulness, & Communication Skills. These are important new categories in response to the digital world thenext generation lives in. 2. Check and return phones at the door (with exceptions, i.e. vulnerable populations seeking online community and specific classes that have thoughtuflly required them.) Away for The Day has examples of school policies. 3. Audit yourselves. Is what you’ve implemented achieving what it was mean to?
4. Pay attemtion to what we’re losing as we’re gaining. Move slow and test before making sweeping implementations.
5. Approach tech in schools with a skeptical eye. Measure success not just in use, but in human results. Start from the assumption that new tech or ed tech won’t improve thelearning experience and work backwards from there.
Everyschool has developed a useful framework for helping school leaders embrace healthy, research-based educational technology with their Ed/Tech Triangle.
In the Community
Joining a Movement & Community Organizing
CHT’s mission is formidable: a fundamental transformation of the technology environment. We can’t and aren’t doing it alone—and families will only be successful staving off the impacts of tech on their children if not being addicted to tech, ironically, becomes the new norm. Ways you can make a meaningful contribution is by taking actions listed above and joining a movement for change, or start one within your school, club or religious organization. Consider plugging into the work of:
ScreenSense is a non-profit started by concerned parents trying to help families have healthier relationships to technology, and change cultural norms. The group has created a community organizing model that you can adapt to make on-the-ground changes in your school communities.
The Screentime Action Network, a project of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, works to promote healthy childhoods by reducing the amount of time kids spend with digital devices. You can join their work around specific political actions—they offer templates for letter writing campaigns, handouts to use at school and research to share with leaders. Educators and mental health professionals, check out their professional development opportunities and working groups.
Didn’t Find What You Were Looking For?
If you’re having a problem that’s not addressed by these suggestions, we’d love to hear from you so that we can better support you. If you know of a resource or intervention for parents, educators and youth not reflected here, please let us know about resources you have found helpful—the more detail about how that worked, the better.