Developing executive function skills like staying on task and making their own schedules can help students manage their technology more effectively, writes Ana Homayoun in “How Intrinsic Motivation Helps Students Manage Digital Distractions” for EdSurge. She visited schools in 40 cities and surveyed students to determine how they felt about their current technology use and what changes might be made to balance their use of cellphones and computers with other goals—like finishing assignments, spending time with friends and family, or exploring hobbies.
Asking students to reflect on their own behaviors is a critical step, so adults need to operate from a place of curiosity and compassion instead of fear and anger, Homayoun argues. Instead of shutting off the wi-fi to limit phone use in schools—a compliance-based model that students simply find workarounds to avoid—educators should consider ways to help students develop their own motivations to curb technology use.
“In some ways, the first wave of digital citizenship education faltered by blocking distractions from school networks and telling students what to do, rather than effectively encouraging them to develop their own intrinsic motivation around making better choices online and in real life,” she writes. Teachers can help students identify goals—like spending more time with friends or family and less time on social media—and then collaborate with students to create strategies to meet those objectives. Students reported success in increasing focus by setting timers and using web blockers to avoid distractions.
When students are able to connect their habits to their goals, they find motivation to limit their social media time, not because they are told to, but because they understand their finite time can be better spent in other ways.
Homayoun reports that students are excited to strategize and test ways to reduce their screen time. “In a way, I gamified the approach and made the students feel as though managing distractions and being focused was actually something that was fun and stress-relieving,” she says.
Homayoun’s survey also found students lack support networks they can rely on in challenging times. She encourages students to identify two groups of people in their lives before a crisis occurs: “supporters” who are typically peers, and “clarifiers” who are adults that help students navigate difficult circumstances.
Building a supportive network benefits students in the classroom and on social media. In schools, having a group of teachers, students and parents who “work together to set and review technology and social media policies on a regular basis” can improve “student buy-in and a movement toward effective solutions that promote better online habits—for everyone.”