New View EDU Episode 28: Supporting Healthy Habits for Students in a Digital World

Available November 1

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Technology has certainly changed the face of education in recent years. In some ways, it’s even become vital to the way we “do school”—especially in times when virtual classrooms have been the only way for students and teachers to stay connected. But tech also comes with significant downsides. Digital distractions, socializing on screens,  and the sneaky costs of 24/7 connectivity are changing our brains. As educators and parents struggle to find the balance between the benefits of technology and the dark side of devices, what does the research show?
Shimi KangPsychiatrist, professor, and author Shimi Kang is an expert in the effects of technology on developing brains. She joins host Tim Fish to share her insights from years of research into how our new online world is affecting kids. Outlining first the biological and chemical processes that underlie the way we experience technology, Shimi exposes the often underestimated consequences of rampant tech use.
Describing the current context as a “pandemic of technology addiction,” Shimi shares that the World Health Organization predicts the next global health crisis to be one of loneliness, directly tied to the amount of time people spend online and in virtual worlds rather than in face-to-face interactions. She outlines the science behind the addictive properties of technology, and how devices and apps are designed to be as addictive as possible. But how can we unplug and “detox” from a technology addiction when everything, including our educational systems, seems to revolve around constant access?
We can’t, Shimi says—but we can strive to understand the real impacts of technology on developing brains, and use common-sense strategies in homes and schools to help strike a healthier balance. Rejecting well-known ideas like tracking minutes of screen time as unrealistic, she instead encourages adults to begin categorizing technology use as healthy, “junk food,” or toxic. Shimi reassures parents and educators that there is healthy and productive technology out there, like ed tech platforms, master classes, apps and platforms that encourage self care and mindfulness, and opportunities to exercise creativity through design, makerspaces, music curation, and more. On the flipside, there’s clearly toxic tech, which is any use of the online world for bullying, hate speech, negative and damaging messages, violence, and even “FOMO” (fear of missing out), where users are subtly encouraged to compare their lives to others.
What’s left, Shimi says, is the technology in the middle—the “junk food” tech. This is where kids are frequently spending time, and where educators have the best opportunity to evaluate where and how they’re setting limits in the school community. She points out that most schools do a great job of leaning into positive educational technology and setting strict controls to keep toxic tech out of the school environment. But what about the seemingly harmless YouTube videos, memes, gaming, and scrolling? These are the sneaky “sugar” of a tech diet, which educators need to be aware of and take steps to limit during the day.
The goal for schools should be to help students build what Shimi calls “CQ,” or the Consciousness Quotient. She describes it as a “whole body intelligence” that combines IQ, EQ, and future-ready skills. Combining creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and making positive contributions to the community and the world around us, CQ is the must-have set of skills for future success. But, Shimi cautions, it’s not something schools can put into practice without focusing first on well-being. And a mindful technology diet within our educational system that prioritizes positive connections, healthy interactions, and creative and productive use of devices, is one of the most important places for schools to start in building the cultures of well-being that are essential to raising CQ.
Ultimately, Shimi says, schools and educators don’t have to know every one of the “latest and greatest” games, memes, or apps out there to know how to create a healthier balance for their communities. By focusing on keeping the “sugar” of tech out of school, centering well-being, and building a technology policy that encourages CQ skills, educators can have a major impact on the neurological development of their students while still embracing the opportunities technology has to offer.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Shimi explore in this episode include:
  • What does neuroscience tell us about the effects of technology on developing brains? What should parents and educators know?
  • What has research found about the addictive properties of technology use for kids and adults? Is it possible to reverse those addictions, even in a constantly connected world?
  • Schools are approaching technology policies from all different angles right now. What are the upsides and downsides to approaches like device bans, and is there a different way educators might want to think about placing limits and rules around tech?
  • What would a “healthy tech diet” look like in a school setting? How can schools plan for healthier tech use, and focus more on developing CQ through device policies?

Episode Highlights

  • “The problem though, with the phones and tech, other than other addictions, is this whole idea of abstinence. Being away from it is impossible, because tech is embedded. It's like air. We cannot live without it. In fact, if we teach children that it's a bad thing, I feel they'll be significantly disadvantaged. … I say we are dealing with the fire of our time. There was a moment when our ancestors learned to harness the power of fire. Those who did it well went further and farther than ever before. Those who didn't got burnt and burnt down the village. And that's exactly where we are with tech.” (11:26)
  • “I don't know any 12-year-old, or any 14-year-old, that can check Snapchat or Instagram in the hallway and then walk into a math or chemistry class and focus. There's just no way that the brain can switch like that. So all these amazing teachers and this great curriculum is going to be delivered to distracted kids if we don't get the phones out of the hallways, out of the lunch rooms.” (18:10)
  • “Sitting is the new smoking. Kids are sitting a really long time. Even this crouched posture that we see all over our schools over a laptop or phone, that's a very stressful posture. That flexion of the spine. Our nervous system is like, why are you crouching in a cave? Is there a hurricane? Is there a predator? And it'll fire cortisol, the stress hormone, just based on that crouched posture that we're seeing everywhere.” (27:06)
  • “When you see the idea of scrolling, the attention span is changing in less than a second, right? And the max we're kind of seeing attention being held is like three seconds. So that in itself, our brain is having to reprocess that. … Even the YouTube video, if you're watching the same video, it's extremely fast-paced. You know, these Tubers are talking fast. They have imaging coming in, there's popups happening. So the distraction. And that's where we're seeing poor difficulty with focus, with concentration. Kids can't sustain it.” (32:12)
  • “Conspiracy theories and extreme views are actually flight behaviors, right? I'm going to think about how the world is flat, not what's happening in my household or how I'm going to deal with this stress. So when we're stressed, when our children are sleep-deprived because they're in too many activities, or they have to write their SATs or whatever it is, we're stressing them out in whatever way, or they're on their devices too much, they're just cycling through anxiety, irritability, and distraction. And so many kids are cycling through that constantly.” (41:11)

Resource List

Full Transcript

  • Read the full transcript here.

About Our Guest

An award-winning medical doctor, researcher, and expert on the neuroscience of social-emotional-cognitive learning, Dr. Shimi Kang provides science-based solutions for health, happiness, and achievement. Kang is a clinical associate professor at The University of British Columbia and the author of the best-seller The Dolphin Parent and The Tech Solution. She is also the founder of Future-Ready Minds, co-founder of the SEL app Get Sparky, and host of the YouTube show Mental Wealth with Dr. Shimi Kang.