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Wellness and Technology

By Robert Derby, director of technology
How are smartphones impacting students?
 
La Jolla Country Day School is partnering with Rady Children's Hospital to evaluate the wellness of our community. One contributing aspect of wellness is our relationship with technology; in particular, the use of smartphones. What do we know and suspect about how smartphones are impacting students? 

Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University Jean Twenge visited LJCDS in May to discuss her research on generations, specifically the trends in the current generation of teens (referred to as Generation Z). Dr. Twenge found a drastic shift in teen behaviors primarily after 2012 when the ownership of smartphones increased to more than 50 percent. Statistically, teens today are less likely to leave the house without their parents, get a job, date, have sex, or obtain a driver’s license than previous generations. According to Dr. Twenge’s research, Generation Z is spending more time on their phone, alone, and the effects are more negative than positive. 

Teens are spending time socializing virtually rather than in person, using apps and social media. Studies show that cumulative screen times (phones, computer, etc.) has a reverse correlation to happiness—the more screen time, the less likely a teen is to be happy. Studies also show that the more time teens spend looking at a screen, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression and are more likely to have risk factors for suicide. 

The work of Tristan Harris, a former Google Design Ethicist and now the head of the Center for Humane Technology, unveils how technology hijacks psychological vulnerabilities. Virtually every streaming or social network company earns money the same way: through revenue generated by advertisements. This revenue is dependent upon the number of total users and the duration users spend on the platform. Harris has helped reveal the lengths to which companies are going to entice and manipulate users to extend usage time.

Using techniques developed at the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab, software companies are using operant conditioning (as in B.F. Skinner's research) to create behavioral addictions compelling users to continue using their software. Operant conditioning is the mental “hack” that makes slot machines so addictive. Is it so hard to believe that companies would purposefully addict their customers to maximize profit?

With emerging research and data on the use of technology and its impact on children, we at La Jolla Country Day School, have the responsibility to engage in difficult conversations with leadership, faculty, students and parents about the role of the non-academic use of technology, especially during the school day. We will be creating opportunities for constructive discussions in the 2019–2020 school year as part of our commitment to the safety and wellness of students. Together, we can work to create a better tech-life balance with our emerging technologies.
 
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