Social Media Hiatus: 5 Lessons Learned

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November 15, 2019

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One of our goals at Smart Social is to help students find a better balance between their lives online and offline. Josh Ochs recently had the pleasure of chatting, on the Smart Social podcast, with a woman who teaches students to explore the world and find empathy-- without the distraction of social media. Katherine Dayton is the Director and Owner of VISIONS Service Adventures and in this episode she talks about the benefits of taking a social media hiatus.

Her organization invites high school students on service trips around the US and abroad, where they engage in meaningful volunteer work and outdoor adventures. The trips are totally tech-free. Dayton witnesses the amazing impact logging off and taking a break can have on teens. We invited her to share some of her key takeaways in the following guest blog post on taking a social media break.

5 Lessons Learned from a Social Media Hiatus

By Katherine Dayton, Director and Owner of VISIONS Service Adventures

Report after report highlights the ways in which social media can negatively affect kids. Yet many teens harness the power of the web for social change, environmental activism and building positive networks. There is light and darkness in the realm of social media. One of the pressing issues is how to help the next generation develop healthy relationships with the technologies that so greatly impact their development and that inevitably will remain tethered to them for the rest of their lives.  

One way is to take a social media hiatus.

In my tenure of running tech-free summer service trips for teens, I have witnessed how a social media detox can empower kids and change them in positive ways. The reward is in the challenge. The average American teen spends more than seven hours a day on social media, so entirely removing that activity is a huge routine change. It can be daunting for a kid to unplug, but when they do, they exercise willpower, gain a sense of independence and become more fully present of their surroundings. Additionally, when kids return to social media, it’s usually with a new perspective and also a sense of purpose. Many of our students return from their tech-free programs to then use social networks for change-making and cause work. 

The benefits of a social media hiatus are clear, and here are five lessons for how to set the experience up for success. 

1. Give It Time

It can take just a couple days for kids to forget about their phones if they are a part of other activities, but it takes more time to have the tech detox result in changed long-term habits. Each passing day of not having a device gets easier, so prolong the experience as much as possible. Let imaginations flow to life outside of the screen while also giving the brain a chance to unhook from its tech-dependency. 

2. Pair With Other Changes

The summer programs I run involve travel and engaging with different cultures. It’s unique and stimulating, and easy to see that having teens take a break from social media is easier l when it coincides with a new experience or environment. Family vacations, cultural or religious events, and weekend camping trips are just a few other options for complementing a break from tech.  

3. Stay Busy

In the absence of social media, kids may need extra activities in order to take their minds off of the virtual events of their screens. Kids can use this extra time for hobbies, sports, arts, a job, face-to-face socializing, or my favorite option— community service. The hands-on nature of the projects, community-building and eye-opening experiences that come with service offer kids a sense of accomplishment, belonging and purpose that they may struggle to find elsewhere. 

4. Journal

What draws many to social media is the ability to document our lives. Removing the digital realm presents an opportunity to document in a slower-paced way and with a good ol’ fashioned journal. When kids write for themselves instead of for their online followers, the reflection is deeper and the growth is greater.

5. Join Them on a Social Media Hiatus

My final lesson is that teamwork is key. Of course, it’s easier to unplug if there aren’t other distracting screens nearby, but just as important— kids on a break from social media will still be looking for someone to interact with! Why not make it you? It may take some adjusting at first, but the creativity and shared conversation will come. Give yourself and your family a tech break and rediscover what’s out there beyond the screen.

What are your tricks to unplugging, and what have you gained from a social media hiatus?

Katherine Dayton is the Director and Owner of VISIONS Service Adventures, a tech-free, community service summer program for teens.

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