Endlessly scrolling through TikTok or feeling tempted to check your emails before you go to bed? You’re not alone. Many of us find it hard to step away from our screens, but knowing when it’s time to ‘switch off’ can be especially tricky for children and young adults as they navigate the social pressures of the online world and attention-grabbing games. Digital wellbeing is one of the themes of this year’s Global Be Well Day, as it becomes increasingly important to emphasise how to use our devices in a healthy way, beyond the traditional warnings to simply protect your privacy.


Digital addiction isn’t a personal issue so much as it is a feature of the design of websites and apps; they are built to be habit forming. Companies benefit from us spending longer online as they collect our data and sell it to advertisers, who are willing to bid against their competitors for prime positioning of their adverts.


App developers are using psychological principles for their purposes, having employed behaviourism that relies on inconsistent rewards to maximise the time we’ll spend scrolling looking for a dopamine burst. This means that we only come across things that bring us joy every so often, whether that’s getting 100 likes on an Instagram photo dump or finding a funny dog video, which in turn keeps us scrolling to find that next burst. 


However, technology is revolutionising education along with workplaces of the future. Immersive rooms aid learning about the real world, as in our Nursery and Pre-Prep West Hampstead, where pupils can ‘visit’ the Rockerfeller Centre, ride on London tubes and play a virtual game of football. Technology literate pupils will be well-versed in the skills needed for remote working and suitably prepared for the expanding tech-based job market. Beyond this, technology helps us to initiate and maintain connections, which is part of the reason it is so difficult to fully step away from, whether sending photos to family abroad or messaging new flatmates before you arrive at university.


This vast network may make children feel as though they’re missing out if they aren’t allowed or able to access the internet and social media. Experts suggest that moderate use of technology is best for children, with social isolation reported at both ends of the scale, from technology addicted to screen-free. 


With this in mind, there are smarter ways to use social media. The things we notice and see everyday build our reality and our view of the world, which means negative feeds on social media can alter our state of mind, especially when you consider how much of our day we may spend looking at them. Educating young people on the impact that the media we consume has on our state of mind is paramount and directing them towards safe and positive accounts may help to keep negativity at bay. 


The nature of phones and tablets make them difficult to monitor – as they are mobile and can be used on the go, it can be hard to gauge usage. Discussing how the internet is created to be addictive can demystify the draw to our devices and create awareness around the tie to overall wellbeing, though. Other steps need not be so forceful as implementing bans; setting up softer boundaries, such as muting notifications, will help to intercept that phone-grabbing habit. This helps to limit screen-time, which can also be monitored through settings in both Google and Apple devices. 


The traditional internet education is still paramount; discussing privacy and monitoring young people’s posts on social media can prevent them from sharing potentially dangerous information online or writing something that they later regret. However, digital wellbeing goes beyond minimising harmful internet interactions to assess how the use of our devices makes us feel and how it affects our lives. We rely on the internet to function more than ever, and being aware of the scale of its presence is the first step to optimising our wellbeing.