We Are Westridge

A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests


Taking Control of Your Digital Life: A New Year’s Resolution Led by 9th Graders

This school year more than ever before, we have been working with our students to help them take control of their digital lives. In order to be a healthy “digital citizen” in 2020 with technology integral to many aspects of life (including as an increasingly powerful component of classroom teaching and learning), we believe it’s crucial to teach young people that it is often necessary to step back and ask ourselves whether that same technology is functioning as a helpful tool, or becoming all-consuming.

The question we have begun to ask 9th graders in our Human Development class is this: Are we being thoughtful about our technology use? Intentionally or not, we are forming habits through our device use; are we aware of what they are and how they affect us? There are social, emotional, and physical repercussions of habitual technology use; can we identify them in ourselves before they grow out of control?

Are we being thoughtful about our technology use?

Now, we know these questions don’t just apply to our 9th graders—they’re good for all of us to ask occasionally! Here are a few tips from our Educational Technology team for both young people and adults to simplify our digital lives in 2020 and become more mindful technology users this year.

#1. Understand the digital slot machine.

You’ve likely heard of FOMO (or the Fear Of Missing Out), which refers to the addictive nature of social media, but did you know that the technology companies who create social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms are actually mimicking the techniques used by the gambling industry to create psychological cravings? Social media platforms are lucrative businesses that make profit when we spend time using them. Through serving us personalized content and ads, generating notifications and “likes,” and even incentivizing use like Snapchat’s “streaks” function, they are triggering the reward centers of our brains, which keeps us coming back. Even video streaming giants like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu with their “autoplay” functions are just attempting to compete with the millions of other digital hands waving in front of your face to get (and keep) your attention.

Above: Westridge 9th graders learn about the physiological phenomenon known as "text neck," which puts undue pressure on one's spine. 

According to the Center for Humane Technology (formerly known as Time Well Spent), FOMO is more than just FOMO. The phenomenon that keeps you coming back to technology has a range of serious consequences, such as shorter attention spans, higher anxiety, sleep deprivation, and strain on the body and spine (also called “text neck”). It can even impact relationships, as our Human Development class recently learned while discussing phubbing or “phone-snubbing” (the practice of ignoring a companion to pay attention to one’s phone). Students shared that phubbing is a regular occurrence in most of their lives – they have both done it to someone else and been on the receiving end. It doesn’t feel good to be phone-snubbed, they concluded, but they often still did it to others and weren’t always sure why.

#2. Equip yourself with means to support your goals.

Perhaps you have set a goal to limit your social media use each day. What are some tools you can use to help yourself unplug? In our Human Development class, our students recommended turning off notifications or turning on Do Not Disturb mode. They also suggested moving your phone to another room before going to bed or downloading an app that records the amount of time you’ve spent on your phone throughout the day (iPhones can do this automatically through the Screen Time setting). We also recommend asking for help from another real-life(!) person to help you work toward the goals you’ve set for yourself by holding you accountable.

#3. Declutter your inbox the simple way.

Perhaps you are looking to declutter your inbox from the slew of marketing emails you don’t remember signing up for or your social media/news feeds from the people you don’t remember following. For the first, check out Unroll.me for an easy way to view all the subscriptions you’ve been meaning to get rid of, and quickly unsubscribe. You can also gather many emails into a single daily or weekly “roll-up” email to help yourself organize your unruly inbox. For the latter, why not do a newsfeed “clean-up” by taking a deep dive into your following list and making sure that the people and companies whose content you’re viewing every day are contributing positivity or joy to your digital life?

In the end, all of these suggestions boil down to asking ourselves why we are using technology in the way we are using it. And whether it’s worth it in the long run to let our habits go unchanged.

#4. Go easy on yourself.

We’re not suggesting that you delete all your apps, throw away your phone or tablet, and go live in the woods. Neither are we saying that all social media is bad and every digital company is out to get you! However, in order to live more mindfully, it’s sometimes necessary to take a hard look at the habits we’re forming every day online and ask ourselves if we’re content with the way we are using technology.

Still, it’s important to realize that our technology use, like any habitual action, can be difficult to change despite our best efforts. Baby steps are better than no steps at all, and failure, as we always say at Westridge, is just another opportunity for growth. So be kind to yourself as you begin 2020 with, hopefully, a resolution to simplify, be more present, and become a more mindful technology user.

A few more resources:

  • Click here for tips to help keep devices away from the dinner table.
  • Click here to read statistics on “brain drain,” or how the proximity of your phone impedes your ability to concentrate.
  • Click here to find additional research on partner “phubbing” and its impact on relationships.
Posted by Samantha Chaffin in upper school, middle school, reflections, Wellness & Balance, lower school, Empathy & Connection on Wednesday January, 15


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Westridge School admits students of any race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, tuition assistance programs, athletic, and other school-administered programs.

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