A funny thing happened when a group of Kingston, Ont., teens put their smartphones away for a week. They slept better, they went outside, they spent time with their friends and family, and when they got bored, they thought deep thoughts.
Six teens between the ages of 13 and 17 recently took part in a research project called the "Disconnection Challenge." The participants logged out of their social media accounts for one week, but were allowed to use their smartphones for school work, contacting their parents and checking work schedules.
'When they sat with boredom and didn't pick up their phone, that's when they thought deep thoughts. And to me that was really the coolest thing that came out of it.' - Valerie Steeves, lead researcher
"They were focusing on their connections — their connections to themselves, their connections to other people and their connections to nature," said Valerie Steeves, the University of Ottawa researcher who led the study, on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.
The teens kept diaries the week before and the week of their seven-day social media fast.
"One of the things that really struck us in the diaries when we looked at it together right away was in day one, day two, a lot of them said, 'Oh, this is such a relief. I don't have to worry about social media,'" said Steeves.
By the middle of the week, students noted they were sleeping better and talking more with their parents and family. But they also noted they were getting bored, according to Steeves.
Spent more time outside
"They said that we use social media or we reach for our phones when we're bored," said Steeves. "What I found really fascinating is when they sat with boredom and didn't pick up their phone, that's when they thought deep thoughts. And to me that was really the coolest thing that came out of it."
The teens also reported spending more time outside, connecting with friends in person rather than just communicating via social media.
At the end of the week researchers produced a video of the students' testimonials expressing what they had learned and how they felt. They want to share it in hopes of inspiring other young people to take a break from social media.
Steeves believes adults can also lead by example by putting their phones down and taking a good look at how the whole family can better manage time spent online.
"So I think it creates a moment for adults to talk to their kids about these kinds of things, and see the kinds of stresses they're under and how adults can support them better," she said.