As she takes to the EduTECH main stage to rousing applause, Brewer quickly gets down to business.

Put simply, the expert says our students are not ‘addicted’ to their devices, in the way many of us have been taught to believe. Rather, teens are ‘addicted’ to the social connections they forge in the digital world – it’s not the app or the game they’re obsessed with, it’s the social and emotional engagement it allows.

Mainstream media and ego-driven researchers are not helping matters, according to the expert.

In their bid to sell headlines and drive up online traffic, media outlets are popping “salacious” headlines on stories that unpack the supposedly damaging effects of technology on students.

The truth, Brewer insists, is that much of the research that underpins this narrative is “methologically fragmented”.

The studies that get attention are flawed and involve “huge manipulations of data”.

“Correlation is not causation, and anecdote is not data,” Brewer argues.

There’s excited nods from her audience.

Rather than buying into the public fear-mongering, Brewer wants educators to be asking some deep questions about how one can ‘stay human’ in a digital world.

Indeed, what does being ‘human’ look like? For Brewer, it means being kind, empathetic and ‘truly connected’ beings that are mindful of our digital choices.

It’s up to every educator to ensure they are embedding digital practices in their teaching, and it’s up to school leaders to ensure their curriculum makes good use of technologies that draw out social and emotional learning opportunities for every child.

Wellbeing policies around technology use need to be jargon-free, and not simply a list of transgressions. These are not optional exercises, Brewer says – these are now imperative to the health and achievements of our students and our schools.

It’s time adults put young people ‘front and centre of the decision making process’ around technology and its role in their education, she adds.

If teenagers are to truly develop healthy digital habits, they need our guidance to navigate through the limitless distractions and set boundaries that will set them up to thrive.


For more from Jocelyn Brewer, read our latest issue of LeadershipEd where we speak to her about her pioneering Digital Nutrition framework and how it can change our relationship with tech in classrooms and in life.