We Offer Daily Digital Detoxes

I just read the line “Digital Detox as the new therapy” and I smiled. It was partially because I know I could use one, but I can see my students desperately needing one as well.

Several years ago, I worked at a school here in the Netherlands where the average age of the student was 16-19. At some point, the administration decided (briefly) that before class each day, the teachers would take a clear plastic box and have the students drop their phone in the box. They could pick them up after class.

Oy! The whining.

“The box will be right here in plain sight throughout class,” I pointed to the table in the front of the room. You’d have thought I’d told them they would get it back in a week.

One girl told me that she didn’t have her phone with her. That was laughable.

I only did the box once more. It took too much time. I couldn’t take the drama.

Students have a connection to their phones that most of us don’t because we can remember a time when we didn’t have a phone. I can remember getting home to check the answering machine. (I can also remember when we didn’t have an answering machine.) I can remember waiting to get home to log on to a dial up connection to check my email. I can remember searching for a pay phone on the streets of New York so I could make a call. These kids don’t have those memories.

They are always plugged in, always connected. It’s part of them being Generation Z. They wait for that buzz or ping and react like…dare I say it…Pavlov’s dog. Maybe the drool is figurative.

The idea of having a student do a digital detox feels like the stuff of TV movies. Crying, denial, kicking and cursing followed by giving in and connecting with nature and with other people sans digital device.

However, I like to think of my classes as digital detoxes. I tell them that I am putting my phone on silent and in my bag. (See? I’m modeling how to do it.) And then I tell them that at some point during the class, I’ll get an email or an instant message and I tell them how excited I will be when I get it. I tell them that I look forward to waiting and I look forward to reading the messages. Nothing will happen in the next two hours that any of us will need to know about immediately. (And if you’re waiting for news about a sick relative or friend, of course you can keep the phone handy.)

It’s good to be disconnected from your phone and from the digital world for a bit. Be present. Be in the now. Pay attention to what is going on in class.

For most of our students, any time away from the phone seems like an eternity. They need these small, digital detoxes. I have to think it’s good for them.

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