The benefits of a digital detox

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Image: iStock

Could you reduce your smartphone use? As we begin a new year, it is time for a digital detox, suggests Julian Stanley

Over the end of term break many of us used the time off to take a digital detox – turn off our phones, or put them away, and shut off our computers.

So I was interested to see education secretary Damian Hinds saying recently that he would like to see more of this, calling on parents to turn off their phones, too (The Telegraph, December 2018).

At least Mr Hinds admits he too tends to have his phone on too much when he should be sharing precious time with his family. He wrote: “We can be too busy finding out what’s going on miles away to pay attention to the people right in front of us.

“I am guilty as charged myself. The precious time I put aside to eat with my family, or play with my kids, too often my phone is also there with us and is a distraction.

“Over Christmas, when I put the phone away, I really noticed the difference.”

Setting an example

Many schools and academies ban mobile phones in the classroom or even on the premises altogether. This can seem a little draconian but a blanket ban is often the best way to stop students staring at screens in break times or even during class. We know some of them would probably do this regularly if there wasn’t a ban in place.

But how many teachers also switch their phones back on the minute a class ends? Or walk down corridors staring at screens? If you’re part of a What’s App group, as many teachers are now, the temptation to check messages the minute you finish a class can be overwhelming. However, if we want to encourage our students to stop spending so much time on their phones, it would be good if we could also do the same.

As anyone who works with young people will attest, the one thing they value above all else is authenticity. They loathe hypocrisy, the do as I say not as I do school of thought. So while they may accept that they can’t have their phones switched on in lessons, or even have their phones with them at school, they will notice if their teachers don’t follow the same strictures.

Wellbeing and smartphones

I admit, too, that I tend to live on my phone a lot. In my job it can seem crucial to be able to keep in touch with people and be available at most if not all times.

But I found, as Mr Hinds did, that putting my phone away over the Christmas break gave a wonderful boost to my wellbeing. It took strong willpower, but the pay-off for my wellbeing was tremendous and well worth doing.

As Mr Hinds points out in his article, there is now compelling research showing that smartphones and other devices can have a negative effect on mental health and wellbeing if used too much.

But what is too much? That is a measure we all have to try to arrive at ourselves, because no-one is suggesting we stop using smartphones and tablets altogether. As with so much in life, it is about balance.

Take back control

If you feel the need to be on your phone whenever you are not teaching or engaged in face-to-face activities, it can feel as if the phone is controlling you, not the other way around.

That small device can be a bit of a dictator if we’re not careful. So how can you make sure you use your phone rather than feeling as if it uses you? One way is to replace the phone habit with another. Or simply try to check yourself before you pick it up to read or send messages – is that pick up really necessary?

Could it wait?

Some smartphones have apps which tell you how much you are using your phone (how many pick-ups, how much time, etc). You can also use these apps to limit your time on your phone, although I am in favour of the willpower option because using an app, of course, still ties you to your phone.

So why not try simply using your phone a bit less or replace it with something else? Go for a walk, or a coffee with a colleague. Read a periodical or chapter of a book. Doing something else is often a good way to beat what may have become a bad habit.

Your students monitoring you

You could even enlist your students to help you. Tell them that you are not just asking them to leave their smartphones at home – you’re going to try to use yours a lot less. And can they help you? This will involve them and give them an adult task that they may enjoy. Maybe you could all make the digital detox journey together?

I am not suggesting we all become Luddites. I think most of us value these devices that have more technology in them than it took to fly men to the moon in the 1960s. The trick is to control them and not feel controlled by them. A digital detox could be good for your life in the classroom but it could also be very good for your overall wellbeing. Worth a try at least?

  • Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

Further information

  • For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk
  • Limiting screen time is crucial to helping our children grow up to be happy and well rounded individuals, Damian Hinds, The Telegraph, December 2018: http://bit.ly/2CZHVgq


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