4 Ways to Help Students Cultivate Meaningful Connections Through Tech
If you’ve kept up with Move This World over the years, you’ll know we’ve struck a delicate balance with technology. Although we deliver our social-emotional learning program through screens, we’re not big on screen learning or screen time in general, especially for young children. The original version of Move This World was all conducted in person, but we realized we could have a significantly greater impact by leveraging technology to deliver videos to hundreds of schools across the country, while also eliminating a heavy implementation lift for educators.
During COVID-19, this dynamic has increased exponentially. We literally cannot be in person with anyone outside of immediate family, which means Zoom Seders and Google Hangout Happy Hours are essential for seeing friendly faces and for learning.
This sudden transition has been difficult on a number of levels. While devices and screens can help us feel less isolated and more connected, it can also fuel anxiety and confusion among children. Why can’t I see my friends? Why aren’t I seeing my teachers?
As the mother of a toddler who has enforced no screen at home up until this point, but whose toddler’s preschool has recently migrated online, I am torn with how I want her to participate. As a young learner, I don’t want her in front of a screen — I want her playing, moving, reading, singing, and creating. I also want her to remember her teachers and friends, and be excited to see them whenever she’s able to return to school. How do we balance or integrate the use of technology and meaningful human connection?
Studies show that screen time and social media use can negatively impact teens’ mental health. Young people who report spending the most time on smartphones — five to seven hours a day — are twice as likely to report being depressed as those who use their phones for one to two hours a day. A study in JAMA Psychiatry showed that 12 to 15-year-olds who spent more than six hours on social media daily were three times more likely to internalize mental health problems, such as depression, and were four times more likely to externalize their issues, which often shows up as bullying, compared with those who did not use social media.
That said, if we want to continue to see teachers and friends and we want to connect with those outside of our home, the need for technology is at an all-time high. What can we do to ensure we’re using technology for meaningful connection and not just mindlessly filling the time?
1. Use technology to strengthen existing relationships
I have found my daughter to be disinterested in participating in an online yoga class or storytime, but she’s thrilled to follow her regular dance teacher on YouTube and her teachers on Zoom because she’s already built a rapport with them. At Move This World, we use familiar faces in our social-emotional learning videos to help establish continuity and try to make the connection consistent despite being out of school. This is a difficult time to introduce new relationships online, but in-person connections can be maintained through technology when we physically can’t be together.
2. Build time for empty space
We have a tendency to fill every space of our lives with technology. Waiting in an elevator? Scroll. Waiting on a conference call? Scroll.
Within Move This World’s videos, we build contained, structured time for silence and reflection so that we have an opportunity to soak in the skills we’ve practiced and personally reflect on discussions with peers. By using technology to create space and silence, we’re teaching how to build in intentional, quiet time for focus so that we can actually benefit from the work we’re doing.
3. Practice eye contact and active listening
Despite taking lessons and meetings online, we can still practice important social-emotional skills like active listening and respect. Through intentional online opportunities to listen and learn from one another, we can continue to create the kind of relationship building skills that we would if we were connecting in-person. Encourage colleagues and students to practice the same group agreements that you would in person: respecting diverse ideas, active listening, and communicating effectively.
4. Use technology to maximize time
With technology we can learn more in a shorter amount of time. But instead of staying online, be specific and intentional with your time together so that we can continue to foster skills and creativity offline. The more intentional we are with our time online, the more time students can have to explore and engage with new ideas and concepts offline.
In New York City, schools are closed through the academic year. That means we need to be especially vigilant about how we set up boundaries online, and how we reinforce positive social interactions offline. If there was any doubt before, there’s certainly none now: Technology is increasingly going to become a much bigger part of our lives. It’s critical that we don’t allow technology to dictate our lives and our well-being, even as we cling to it for social engagement and remote learning.
Sara Potler LaHayne (@sara_lahayne) is Founder and CEO of Move This World, a social-emotional learning program supporting students.
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