Students and teachers take part in activities during the Digital Detox camp at DPS Sharjah Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Sharjah

Delhi Private School Sharjah (DPS Sharjah) on Tuesday held its first “digital detox camp” to address the impact of social media, screen-time and smart devices on the mental health and wellbeing of children.

The five-day camp, called ‘Disconnect to Connect’, is featuring experts from various fields discussing the problems of and solutions to tech overload, as well as hosting several activities for making children more social in a real, and not digital, sense.

The camp has been made part of the Indian school’s curriculum and will be held every year, starting this year with students who have just completed grade eight. Like other Indian schools,

DPS Sharjah is on a short break before the start of their new academic year in April, when the students at the camp will join grade nine.

‘Tech can’t be your life’

On Tuesday, school principal Vandana Marwaha told Gulf News: “We’re not advocating ‘don’t use technology’, which is a very important tool. But it cannot be your life.”

Marwaha said excessive time spent on digital devices and online has created “by-products like low self-esteem, loneliness, and socially-misfit children. We want to make children realise there is much more to life than just a gadget”.

She said most adults know about this problem “but we need to do something about it too. I hope others schools will also hold similar programmes so it becomes a widespread campaign”.

Expert talks

One of Tuesday’s expert talks was led by Dr Mehnaz Ali, a psychiatric at the Ministry of Health and Prevention’s Al Amal Psychiatric Hospital in Dubai. Dr Ali said her observations, and that of other researchers, indicates, counter-intuitively, that it is the studious students who are more prone to addiction to online network games and hence are more at risk of cyber-abuse.

She explained that in a bid to be popular, high-achievers crave more attention online and are more likely to hide things from parents when that attention comes in the form of abuse by other gamers, whose real identities are often unknown.

“The more academically oriented students are more isolated; the extra-curricular students don’t have a problem. Students who study a lot … their parents’ benchmark for them is high academics, but when they go to school it’s the popular students getting more ‘likes’. This leaves them feeling confused,” Dr Ali said.

How excessive screen-time affects posture and eye health will also be discussed by specialists at the camp, who will share expert advice on responsible use and safe practices. The talks are meant to be informative but also interactive.

‘Discuss it freely’

“If something is bothering you, discuss it freely. Why should it be hidden behind a gadget and discussed with an unknown person online. We want to find solutions also, under supervision,” Marwaha said.

She added that a digital detox for parents will also be held in December.

Students at the camp conceded heavy screen-time was an issue facing most children, adding that initiatives like the camp were the need of the hour.

Finding a balance

“Even with the exams going on, I constantly felt my attention going toward my phone on the corner of my table at home. I feel like this camp gives us so much more time to socialise with each other. We’re also doing skill-building activities, taking care of our health. The school wants to help us find a balance,” said Julia Shaji, who will be joining grade nine in April.

“Once in a while, I try to look around for my phone, thinking ‘oh, have I lost it’. But then I realise I’m here with my friends, what more could I want.”

‘World outside screens’

Her schoolmate Nishka Khanzode, who will also be joining grade nine, said: “I feel like screen-time is a really big problem; we’re really dependent on technology, all round. And this step is a really good thing that the school is doing. It’s not like you don’t get to use your phone at all, but gradually they make you step out of the habit of using it. It replaces unhealthy things like screen-time with healthy things like pottery or gardening.”

She added: “It’s a lot of new experiences that they’re making you do and making you realise there is a world outside of just screens.”