Educational Insights

How to Support Students in Healthy Digital Media Usage

Submitted by: Matt Poynter, Head of Lower School

Middle school students are well known for the richness of their emotional lives and the intensity of their feelings. Navigating this terrain is the hard work of adolescence. A key component of social-emotional learning at this age is the development of emotional literacy and includes: 
    •    Noticing our emotions

    •    Naming our emotions 

    •    Taking steps to regulate our emotions

Noticing emotions takes a certain degree of mindfulness and reflection, and these are skills we develop over time. Naming emotions can be a question of vocabulary: knowing the difference between happy and elated; worried and fearful; calm and bored. One counselor I worked with previously used the phrase “name it to tame it” to signify the way noticing and naming our emotions can help with the next step, regulating them. Sometimes, not always, when we notice and name our emotions, we can actually identify what’s causing them and respond accordingly. Strategies might include deep breathing, walking away from a difficult situation, and/or asking for help. Also, when something feels right, we can acknowledge it and perhaps make a habit of it (exercise comes to mind here, easier said than done). 

During one of our Technology and Wellness seminars, we applied the concept of emotional literacy to digital media use. We know that our digital media use has an impact on how we feel, both positive and negative. It’s great to see an old friend and to post an encouraging comment. But some apps, especially when used over time, can bring up anxiety, depression, and loneliness (for additional information on the research behind this, visit the Center for Humane Technology). When we’re mindful of our online activity, we can notice and then name how we’re feeling; sometimes, we can identify what it is that’s causing us to feel that way. And then we can take steps to regulate how we’re feeling. In particular, we identified the term red-flag feeling: this is when something happens that causes us to feel uncomfortable, worried, sad, or anxious. When that happens, it’s time to do something: sign off, reach out to a friend or trusted adult, and make a plan to avoid that thing.

Developing emotional literacy is critical to help kids navigate the complex world of middle school. The intensity and prevalence of social media in the lives of our students make this work more important than ever.

Additional Resources for lesson plans and guidance can be found at Common Sense: Education 

  • Emotional Literacy
  • lower school
  • Middle School