Another kind of Easter egg: Scientists help kids get a digital detox

It’s a big ask but getting young people off the digital screen during Easter can become a new kind of Lenten fast – thanks to a ‘digital detox camp’

It’s a big ask but getting young people off the digital screen during Easter can become a new kind of Lenten fast – thanks to a ‘digital detox camp’.

An initiative by Fundacion Mapfre, through Data Science Malta, will give school students a new way of reconnecting themselves by teaching them how to engage with their digital devices mindfully while exploring offline activities.

The ‘Digital Detox Easter Camp’ is pledging three days in which young people can “reconnect and refresh” by learning more about the effects of excessive screen time on mental health and well-being, digital addiction awareness, auditing their screen time, and practical tips for digital balance.

They will also rediscover ‘offline’ hobbies to replace screen time, such as outdoor adventures, creative activities, and mindful practice such as meditation to cultivate awareness and presence in daily life.

And as with all commitments, they will take a digital detox pledge thanks to their enhanced digital literacy skills, to start prioritising offline activities and maintain a healthy balance between technology and real-life experiences.

“Participants will leave the Digital Detox Easter Camp equipped with a deeper understanding of their relationship with technology and practical strategies for promoting digital wellness,” Data Science Malta says on their evening course starting 26 March as kids go into their Easter holidays.

“By focusing on mindful engagement with digital devices and exploring offline activities, they will be empowered to navigate the digital world more consciously and enjoy a more balanced and fulfilling life. We believe that this camp will provide a valuable opportunity for students to rejuvenate and reconnect with themselves and their surroundings.”

The European Parliament recently called on the European Commission to address existing legal gaps and introduce new legislation against addictive design in digital games, apps, and social media.

With a report supported by 545 lawmakers back in December 2023, MEPs sounded a warning on the addictive nature of online games, social media, streaming services, and online marketplaces, which exploit users’ vulnerabilities to capture their attention and monetise their data.

Now they want the Commission to increase consumer protection through safer alternatives, even if these are not as profitable for social media platforms.

The European Commission is itself currently evaluating the need to update certain consumer protection legislation to ensure a high level of protection in the digital environment, with results are expected in 2024.

“No self-discipline can beat Big Tech’s tricks, fuelled by armies of designers and psychologists to keep you glued to your screen,” Dutch MEP Kim Van Sparrentak (Greens) said. “If we do not act now, this will have an impact on the mental health and brain development of generations to come.”

Problematic smartphone or internet use has been linked to lower life satisfaction and mental health symptoms such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, lack of sleep and obsessive-compulsive behaviour, with children and young people the most vulnerable.

Young people aged 16-24 spend an average of over seven hours a day on the internet, with one in four displaying problematic smartphone use resembling addiction.

To mitigate the addictive nature of platforms and empower consumers, the European Commission is being urged to present a digital “right not to be disturbed”.

MEPs also want the Commission to create a list of good design practices like “think before you share”, turning off notifications by default, chronological feeds, greyscale mode, automatic locks, and total screen time summaries.