A First for Pupils at George Heriot’s: Volunteering for 24-hour Screen Fast

Fourteen pupils from S6 at George Heriot’s school in Edinburgh volunteered to take part in an informal research project set up by The Reward Foundation. The aim was to make pupils aware of how much time they were spending on the internet or watching TV and how it might be interfering with sleep, family time, doing necessary but routine tasks and face-to-face socializing.

Eight of the group, five boys and three girls, managed to last 24 hours without looking at their smartphones, tablets or computers. One other managed to avoid phones but slipped inadvertently into watching TV with mum near the end. It wasn’t easy. One pupil even managed to complete it despite bursting a car tyre and losing a wallet. The exercise fitted in with the school’s “Love your Mind” project and the end of term activities for pupils in transition to further education and work.

Most found it a really useful experience and would like to continue the experiment. Comments from their journals covered a range of feelings, emotions, insights and coping strategies. These included:

  • realizing they texted friends more than they thought
  • was more productive than normal as didn’t keep taking internet breaks
  • doing things such as writing some ‘thank you’ letters
  • chatting with friends who were on phones not realizing what a crutch it is in conversation and for avoiding eye contact
  • walking home without using it. Noticed more sounds and sights, kept head up, looked around more
  • sorted out things in the bedroom and tidied up
  • finding more jobs, put up hooks in my cupboard for my bags
  • spent more time after dinner talking with family, feeling good
  • room looked cleaner than it has in weeks
  • starting to feel like a trial, having to really focus on keeping myself entertained
  • started to read, felt fine
  • tired, irritable (several reported this)
  • feeling a little on edge, the house seems very quiet but I normally would be on my phone or playing a game so I would be distracted
  • read before sleeping peacefully and deeply, feel well rested, no desire to look at phone
  • pleased with self that I have no strong urge to look at screens and able to go 24 hours without screens though it was difficult at times
  • more time spent daydreaming, thinking about life, the universe, everything

In addition to a little chocolate reward for their fortitude and perseverance,  the volunteers received the survey results of their questionnaires along with a note about the harms that too much screen time can cause. Teachers were pleased with the results and hope to repeat the experiment again next year. Direct experience of feeling that urge really is the best way to teach the lesson.