Teachers who've been observing concerning changes in students’ wellbeing aren’t imagining things. The constant overstimulation from screens - both at home and at school - is a big reason why. Could mindfulness training help?
“The consequences of our dependence on smart devices, in our homes in addition to school, are becoming apparent and the statistics are alarming,” warns WA teacher Paula Flugge.
Those statistics show a big uptick in anxiety and depression, which many experts believe is the result of the double whammy of pandemic isolation and children’s ever-increasing dependence on devices.
A major report on Victorian kids’ mental health conducted last year, for example, found as many as one in five (15-20%) had mild to moderate emotional or behavioural difficulties including anxiety, irritability, depression and sleep disturbance.
Concern about Aussie kids’ mental health prompted the Australian Psychological Society Development to request government funding for child mental health hubs to bridge the gap between schools and clinical services.
Soaring device use
According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, in 2020 just under half (46 per cent) of children aged six to 13 used a mobile phone, while one in three owned their own phone.
School closures during pandemic lockdowns have fuelled the trend. But even in physical classroom settings, digital devices have invaded in unprecedented numbers.
“There was one stand-out change to the classroom environment ... the take-up of smartboards in every classroom and the overuse of digital devices in an effort to support learning outcomes.”
Flugge is one of many educators concerned about the impact on students. Upon returning to teaching from maternity leave, she was dismayed to discover a notable shift in her kids’ mental wellbeing.
In the time she was away, she told WAtoday, “There was one stand-out change to the classroom environment ... the take-up of smartboards in every classroom and the overuse of digital devices in an effort to support learning outcomes.”
That was four years ago. Since then, the use of learning technology for even the very youngest students has exploded.
The mindfulness antidote
Many educators agree that measures to counteract the harmful effects of constant screen-time exposure are urgently needed. Flugge’s own solution was to teach her kids mindfulness techniques like breathwork and yoga.
She says she “saw positive effects on students immediately.”
The push to add mindfulness to an already-crowded curriculum has also had its critics. But those in support point out that these skills are essential for children growing up in a digital world where, in Flugge’s words, “Our children are being constantly overstimulated every single day.”
“If we want systemic change,” says national education trainer Rochelle Borton, “then our education systems need to allow the time for not only teachers but young people to facilitate the change in themselves and their environments. We need to allocate as much time to this as we do to academic success.”
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