Involve students in discussions and include neuroscience to support the development of healthy digital habits 

Cognita, a world leading global system of over 100 schools and top voice on student wellbeing, has released a new Be Well Digital report – How to empower digital agency in students, with students, for students – which combines views from 13-18 year old students with insights from top global experts in digital wellbeing from Harvard, the University of Cambridge and the Digital Wellness Institute. It calls upon an action-led response from educators, parents and those working in the technology sector to drive a movement towards digital agency in support of overall student wellbeing. 

The report is crafted from the perspectives of over 150 students around the world and then considered alongside experts through the lens of adolescent neuroscience, which the students found extremely valuable. 

‘… even just a brief overview of the developmental changes to the brain was reassuring to students and helped them make better sense of what had previously been something they felt confused or even ashamed by.’ P27 – Be Well Digital report 

Speaking about the insight from the discussions with students and experts, Beth Kerr, Cognita’s Group Director of Wellbeing, said:   

“There are two standout learnings for me from this project. To make the most impact, we must put students at the heart of any discussions around how to manage their digital use to support their wellbeing and ability to focus and learn. Secondly, we need to share with students what we know about adolescent neuroscience, to help them better understand how it relates to their actions and interactions online. Only then will they be able to identify, develop and maintain digital habits that will help them achieve their goals. 

“Students recognise that they are overdependent on their devices and they understand the impact this has on their productivity and ability to focus. They are sending a clear message that adults need to be more empathetic and recognise the complexity of being a teenager in a digital world. They do not have the same lived experience, and so, clear and non-judgemental communication is key.  

“There is also a frustration with social media and technology companies for their lack of ethical and moral consideration for the wellbeing of adolescents during the persuasive design process.  

“We hope that this report will drive a movement to stimulate awareness of the power of the digital world and initiate behaviour change designed to improve overall student wellbeing now and in the future.” 

Commenting on the report, Dr Simon Camby, Group Chief Education Officer for Cognita, said:  

 “One of our key objectives at Cognita is to equip our students with the agency that they need to thrive in our rapidly evolving world. This includes learning how to manage their own wellbeing through understanding the neuroscience behind it.  

“The students in our schools do not know a world without digital. This brings amazing opportunities for communication, for learning and for innovation. Alongside, there are new questions regarding what it means to be a digital citizen and what it means to manage one’s own wellbeing. This report shows the value in involving our young people in these conversations and how we, as adults, can empower them to develop their own digital agency.” 

How to empower digital agency in students, with students, for students is a valuable resource for schools, families, the technology sector and anyone else who wants to understand more about the relationship between technology, wellbeing and learning. By approaching this from the perspective of the adolescents themselves first, and through a neurodevelopmental lens, it aims to encourage better conversations with young people, empowering them to develop digital agency and to thrive.  

This report forms part of the digital wellness resources that have been developed to support Cognita schools with our fifth annual Global Be Well Day, which will take place on Friday 29 September 2023. 

You can view a copy of the report here

About the report 

The report considers the views and experiences of over 150 students from eight countries across Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, and insights from four global experts:  

Dr Amy Orben (Programme Leader Track Scientist at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the Medical Research Council, University of Cambridge);  

Dr Carrie James and Dr Emily Weinstein (Principal Investigators for Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education); and 

Amy Blankson (CEO of Fearless Positivity and Co-Founder of the Digital Wellness Institute).  

These highly respected experts share a passion for putting young people at the heart of their work and research, offering practical advice to enable adults to better empathise with the lived experience of adolescents in the digital age.  

The report identifies and expands on five thought-provoking themes: 

  1. Global homogeneity relating to the perception and use of technology by adolescents and adults
  2. Sophisticated self-awareness of the challenges relating to individual and peer digital use
  3. The value of understanding adolescent neuroscience to increase digital agency
  4. Inadequate communication between adults and adolescents
  5. A disappointment in technology companies’ prioritisation of profits over children’s and young people’s wellbeing