Oct. 4, 2019

By Glenda Ballard, Dean of the School of Human Development

AUSTIN, Texas — Everyone, not just students, needs ways to escape from digital distractions today. Below are a few tips for us all.

  • Develop a mindfulness that you will not be hamstrung by an electronic device. Be an independent thinker and focus on your sense of wellbeing for a few minutes each day.
  • Be a role model. Identify a couple of friends who will join you in a campaign for “phone-free breaks.”
  • For one week, keep a log of how much time you spend on your device versus how much time you spend on classes (both in-class time and homework).
  • Ask for help. Secure the support of your parents, teachers and other adult leaders to set boundaries on the amount of time allowed on devices.
  • Create a reward system. For each half-hour you spend on American history or chemistry or geometry, reward yourself with 10 minutes on social media. Set a timer. That 10 minutes will zip by.
  • If you have successfully completed two of the five tips above, give yourself an entire afternoon of social media. It could be, the more you get away from it, you might find that you really don’t need it quite as much as you thought.

The reality is, in our world today, we do have children and adults addicted to digital devices. For children who are still developing physically, emotionally and socially, being able to handle digital devices appropriately is challenging. 

  • The first step is for adults to check themselves. Children reflect the environments within which they live; if you are on your device constantly, you cannot expect for them to do anything different. Set your own limits and stick to them.
  • Second, create a quiet space — the dinner table, one hour after dinner, or as everyone is preparing for the day in the morning. Use that time to connect verbally without relying on devices.
  • Third, restrict use of digital devices until homework, sports and chores are done. Again, if we start early with these expectations, children become conditioned to expect them. Sure, they will try the limits, but keeping a consistent message is the key.
  • Last, learn from your children. Allow them to teach you one new thing — a new app, a new trick, a new use for the device — per week. Help them to see that, while digital devices are not, in themselves, negative, excessive use of them can be. In summary, be a role model; be consistent; and be involved in your children’s digital device experiences.

For college students, the challenges differ slightly. They are on their own, yet many of them may have never learned how to operate without reliance on a digital device. However, similar tips would apply to our influence on college students.

  • First, create digital quiet spaces on campus where people may go and socialize without the emphasis on social media.
  • Second, set boundaries in the classrooms on when and how the devices can be used. And third, use devices in a positive way in the classroom.

The reality is the devices are here and very much a part of this generation’s existence. Trying to ignore that component of their lives is not realistic. Instead of exhibiting a constant negative message, learn to adapt the devices into the curriculum. If students see that the devices are recognized for their value, they might be more apt to listen to the other messages we try to convey about too much involvement with our devices.