Digital Stress: A Guide for Teachers

In theory, smartphones should help make everyone—well—smarter. After all, we have access to the total of all human knowledge in our hands. So, why does it make us feel worse instead of better?



Many people (especially our students) are spending much of their lives online. And living in such a digital world has created the kinds of digital stress most teachers did not have to deal with growing up.
It’s not too late to fight back, though. By understanding more of what digital stress is and how to combat it, you can free your students’ minds and improve their quality of life.
From Phones to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
Many adults don’t fully understand the concept of digital stress. How can the online world affect the offline world in such profound ways?
A lot of it comes from “fear of missing out,” better known as FOMO. And the more online friends and followers someone has, the worse the FOMO can be.
Things like social media give us a window into other people’s lives. Except we do not genuinely see their lives: we are witnessing the polished and glamorous version of their lives they put forth.
Seeing someone bragging about their excellent relationship or mind-blowing vacation can incite feelings of worry or jealousy. Your students may be wondering why they cannot have such relationships and such adventures.
Therefore, tools like social media that are designed to connect people to the world can leave many users feeling isolated.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
Social media is mostly visual. This is especially true of platforms like Instagram. And this creates its own set of problems.
Teenagers are already at an age where they are dealing with things like body issues. Seeing their peers looking (seemingly) perfect online can enhance those issues and make students obsess about factors such as height, weight, and skin tone.
Of course, the irony is that those “perfect” photos are very fake. Many people use assorted camera tricks and make dozens of photo attempts before getting that one perfect shot.
Nonetheless, it’s human nature to compare ourselves to how others look. And the student body is particularly susceptible to this issue.
Digital Natives, Digital Problems
Teenagers now are referred to as “digital natives.” That’s a fancy term meaning that they have never known a world without smartphones and social media. However, growing up in this digital world has put them at a unique risk of these digital problems.
As we noted before, teenagers are particularly likely to suffer from issues like body dysphoria. And this can lead to further problems such as eating disorders. Regularly seeing rail-thin influencers on their favourite social media platforms increases the risk of such issues.
Furthermore, online communication has less natural empathy than face-to-face interactions. It’s easy for friendly or neutral messages to be interpreted as hostile or cruel. For that matter, it’s easier than ever to send cruel, bullying messages by using digital platforms.
For many teenagers, these digital platforms are the primary way they communicate with friends and colleagues. It does, in many cases, lead to more bullying, more FOMO, and more digital stress than ever before.
Classrooms: Phone-Free?
Now you know a bit more about why digital stress is such a problem. That leaves the obvious question: what can you do about it?
First of all, you can turn your classroom into a phone-free environment? Or maybe specific lessons can be phone free? Create an area in your classroom where students must deposit their phones before class begins.
It can help you teach by reducing student distraction. But it also helps your students to practice going long periods without checking their phones. This temporary “phone detox” each class day can help them see it is okay to spend less time on their phones, leading to less overall digital stress.
Smartphones have huge benefits, it’s all about monitoring balance.
Show Them What You Want to See
Of course, we are all models for our students. And when it comes to smartphones and social media, we need to model the kind of behaviour we hope to see.
When class starts, put your phone away. Don’t make a big deal out of it, but let students see that you are putting your phone away to concentrate on something important.
If you receive messages during class, ignore them if possible. It sends a powerful signal: you are ignoring digital distractions to focus on a positive activity filled with social interaction.
This reduces digital stress, but it’s also only fair if you are asking them to surrender their phones.
Keep the Conversation Alive
Our final tip for dealing with digital stress is relatively straightforward: try to have conversations about this topic with your students.
With a little prompting, students are likely to open up about the negative way that the digital world can make them feel. Such conversations are useful because your whole class can see they are not alone in their suffering.
These conversations can help to prompt lifestyle changes that reduce student stress. And they provide the necessary context for things like your smartphone policy; this keeps students from feeling as if you are punishing them.
Digital Stress: A Guide for Teachers

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