Question: How can we encourage students (particularly middle and high school) to be present during activities that may or may not be outside of the regular school day? Some examples I am thinking of include student engagement during class time, student participation in class activities like wellness circles or reading time? It is challenging to engage middle and high school students to participate and be invested in their own individual experiences instead of scrolling or refreshing social media platforms.


Answer: We hear frequently that it can sometimes be challenging to get adolescents (and adults!) to “be present”. With this challenge, it might be helpful to consider why adolescents are drawn to social media. In our previous post, we discussed several possible reasons. Here, we share strategies that can be implemented to help decrease multitasking and increase attention to other activities:  

In their book chapter on multitasking and attention, Bowman, Waite, and Levine (2015) offer the following recommendations: 

  • Implement technology breaks during activities. Implement technology breaks during activities to increase focus students are less likely to be distracted if they know they have a designated time to look at their phone later. 
  • Teach mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease multitasking and is associated with task persistence.  
  • Integrate positive use of technology into activities. Such as allowing students to look up information, encouraging collaboration over technology, or using podcasts to enhance learning. 
Other evidence-based strategies include: 
  • Give thoughtful consideration before implementing policies that restrict phone use while learning. Researchers have found that students often report being anxious when they are unable to check their phones (Rosen, Carrier, & Cheever, 2013), thus, decreasing their attention to ongoing activities. If introducing a phone policy feels necessary, it is recommended that students and adults come up with a classroom or community technology agreement together as teens are more likely to follow these types of rules if they play a role in creating them. 
  • Be transparent with students about the research on technology use, such as the evidence that multitasking during school tasks can lower academic achievement.  
  • Present digital citizenship programs that focus on facilitating healthy use of media. In a chapter by Weinstein and James (2020), the researchers looked at 20 digital citizenship programs and found most of the programs had 3 objectives:  
    1. Increase awareness of design features and psychological principles that impact use. Teaching students about influential features (e.g., auto-play, recommended tailored content, likes, curated profiles) has shown to increase critical thinking surrounding social media use and increases motivation to learn about regulating their use, but it has not shown impacts on changing behavior (Galla et al., 2021).  
    2. Have students self-reflect on their use. Rather than have youth simply track their screentime, youth can self-reflect on what they use social media for (e.g., entertainment, communication, learning, music, looking what others are up to, etc.), their digital habits (e.g., using social media before bed), and how these behaviors impact their mood. This activity helps to tap into students’ metacognition – thinking strategically and intentionally about how to use technology – rather than evoking shame around time spent using technology.  
    3. Make commitments to changing behavior that reflects healthy digital habits. Lastly, many digital citizenship programs have students make agreements or commitments to engage in healthy tech use strategies, such as unfollowing social media accounts that elicit negative emotions, turning off notifications during certain times, putting phone away before bed, scheduling screentime, and identifying non-screen activities that can help to alleviate boredom. These agreements are most likely to be effective if recognizing the challenge of design features is also discussed, and if the commitments resonate with adolescents’ views of tech dilemmas they face in their daily life. Therefore, it is recommended that agreements and commitments be created in collaboration with youth. 


  • Bowman, L. L., Waite, B. M., & Levine, L. E. (2015). Multitasking and attention: Implications for college students. The Wiley handbook of psychology, technology, and society, 388-403. 
  • Galla, B. M., Choukas-Bradley, S., Fiore, H. M., & Esposito, M. V. (2021). Valuesalignment messaging boosts adolescents’ motivation to control social media use. Child Development, 92(5), 1717–1734. 
  • Rosen, L. D., Carrier, L. M., & Cheever, N. A. (2013). Facebook and texting made me do it: Media-induced task-switching while studying. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 948-958. 
  • Weinstein E, James C. (2022). School-Based Initiatives Promoting Digital Citizenship and Healthy Digital Media Use. In: Nesi J, Telzer EH, Prinstein MJ, eds. Handbook of Adolescent Digital Media Use and Mental Health. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press;365-388. doi:10.1017/9781108976237.020




Age: 10-17  

Topics: Present, Mindfulness, Multitasking, Alternative Activities, School, Community 

Role: Other Professional 

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American Academy of Pediatrics