Technology and Social Isolation: Minimizing the Impact on Students

Digital/Mobile, Mental Health, Online Learning, Student Success, Whole Student Support
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Dr. Ashley Hall is an Assistant Professor in the Rusche College of Business at Stephen F. Austin State University

 

Ding. Buzz. Whoosh. Vibrate. These are just a few of the sounds that draw our attention away from whatever we are doing and towards our phones. It is no secret that technology, with all its benefits, also causes massive distractions if we let it.

Technology can give the illusion of being connected. With just a few taps, we have almost instant access to an unlimited amount of information. While stopped at a red light or waiting in a line, it is easy to reach out to other people or peek into their lives via what is posted on social media. However, all this access doesn’t really foster connection. Social media is often just a person’s highlight reel. Yet, that image can be the standard against which others judge themselves. The prevalence of technology and social media have promoted concepts such as “likes,” “subscribers,” and “influencers.” People can go “viral” for the craziest things. So while we have a greater level of access to more people, including those we only know because of their online personas, true connection is lacking.

Given this always-scrolling world most students live in, we as educators can play an important role in helping them fight the isolation that can come with too much technology and encouraging them to build connections with peers. Teaching young people how to use technology in a way that is healthy is an important skill that will help them succeed in this tech-saturated world. Here are five tips for addressing the topic of technology and social isolation:

 

1. Talk about the issue

Don’t be afraid the bring up the topic. Help students understand the impacts, both socially and physiologically, that come with too much technology.

Here are some facts you can share with your students to raise their awareness about the issue:

  • A study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that young adults with higher social media use also experienced higher perceived social isolation than their peers with lower social media use.
  • Technology overuse can also cause physical symptoms like eye strain and loss of sleep.

 

2. Encourage boundaries

After discussing some of the negative repercussions that can come from too much technology, work with students to help them brainstorm some realistic, effective boundaries. It can start small with something like: “This week, I will not scroll on my phone before going to sleep.”

 

3. Build in time for face-to-face communication

Encourage your students to get to know the classmates that sit around them. Allow time for students to talk to one another and engage in small talk—an important workplace and networking skill. Sometimes a nudge in the right direction can go a long way. If your class is fully remote, try to include virtual activities that encourage social connections like icebreakers and smaller group discussions.

 

4. Promote extracurricular activities

Activities based on a common interest can be a great place to make new connections and build friendships. Extracurricular activities can help relieve student stress and also give an outlet for establishing real, genuine connections with people face to face as opposed to on-screen.

 

5. Practice mindfulness with technology

Teach students the importance of evaluating sources of information and seeing if they are objective. Help students recognize when the endless scrolling of doomsday news may be damaging their mental health. Part of using technology in a healthy way is knowing when to turn it off. While there is value in staying up to date with world events, an endless stream of bad news can be detrimental. Setting good boundaries will go a long way in helping combat this.

 

Technology is here to stay. However, how we interact with it can be modified. Help students build healthy technology habits by having open conversations about it, encouraging healthier behaviors, and modeling it for them as well. The ramifications many people have experienced in the wake of COVID isolation showcase just how important genuine connections are. Let’s work together to help students build healthier habits when it comes to technology.

 

For more strategies on protecting students’ mental health, download our free ebook, Navigating Mental Health Issues on Campus.