Sylvia Hart Frejd’s mission is to help students balance tech time and face time (not FaceTime), training their eyes on fellow humans instead of smart screens. As founder of the nation’s first Center for Digital Wellness, housed in a Wi-Fi-proof room at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Dr. Frejd promotes 24-hour digital fasts and counsels students on how to “thrive in real life, not just in their digital lives.”
First, overcome fear of a real conversation. “My advice is, you put down your phone first and make that face-to-face connection.” To make her point, 20 students in Liberty’s theater arts department staged a flash mob in the dining hall, holding their cellphones, frozen for three minutes, before shouting “Look up!” — the name of Dr. Frejd’s campaign, which includes posters and pop-up tents around campus.
A survey of 620 teenagers last year by Common Sense Media found that 78 percent checked their devices at least hourly, and 72 percent felt the need to immediately respond to text messages and other notifications.
Dr. Frejd, co-author of “The Digital Invasion: How Technology Is Shaping You and Your Relationships,” has been known to reprimand students who shuffle along in their digital bubble when she passes in the hallways. “One was really embarrassed and said, ‘It’s the digital wellness lady!’ ” she recalled. “I’ve also seen a guy looking down at his phone walk into the women’s bathroom. I said, ‘Look up!’ But I was too late.”
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