"Teens, Social Media and Wellbeing" sessions held for parents/guardians and students

As Greenwood prepares to transition to a cellphone-free environment in September 2024, we recently welcomed Jake Ernst, Clinical Director of Straight Up Health, social worker and psychotherapist, for a parent/guardian session and an assembly for students. 

At the parent/guardian virtual session, Jake provided a brief overview of the history of social media and recent research about the impact of these apps on teen wellbeing.

“Screen use affects everyone differently,” he said. “But we know that algorithms feed us distressing and distracting content that actually disconnects us from each other.”

Teens, he added, are spending on average nearly five hours on social media per day. And teens report that their parents are distracted by phones too.

“Anyone alive today is part of ‘Generation T’ – transition,” Jake said. “We have all been part of this tsunami of technological change, and it’s changing how we connect with each other and experience life.” 

Anxiety rates are higher than ever, and loneliness rates are up too.

Jake said teens (and adults) need support to change their habits when it comes to screens and social media.

“Kids and teens need help managing this,” he said. “We have said ‘reduce it’ and ‘just don’t use it’, and we have seen that has not been successful.

“Imagine handing your child an open plane ticket, and saying ‘You can go anywhere in the world. You plan it. You navigate. Good luck.’ That’s sort of what we are doing with smartphones and social media apps and algorithms.”

He said a phone-free environment will require some ‘re-norming’. “Things like planning where to meet at break, or pre-arranging pick-up from school. It will take getting used to but it can be done.”

At the student session, Jake acknowledged that students may have varied feelings about news of Greenwood going phone-free.

“Let’s take a moment right now and just consider filling in the blank – ‘I am feeling - blank - about Greenwood going phone free.’ 

He then asked students to say to themselves “I am feeling - whatever your blank was - and that’s OK.” 

“I’m not here to change how you are feeling,” Jake said. 

Change is hard, he added. But humans are designed to get through it.

Jake provided students with a brief history of social media, as well as an overview of the impacts of the devices on the way we connect with each other in real life, and on our attention spans.

“Overall, human attention spans have declined to around 47 seconds and, when a phone is near to us, that further reduces to around 6 seconds,” he explained, referencing a recent study.

Jake suggested that students (and their families) try a “digital detox” over the summer in preparation for September.

“Try to remove an app for a day. Or reduce your number of devices for one day. Or stay off social media for a day,” he suggested. “We might feel feelings of withdrawal - anxious, jittery, distracted. It takes about three to four weeks to digitally detox. Let’s be honest about our use.”

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