I get it – it’s the era of technology. And I get it – kids love it.

But what I don’t get it is that in light of all the research about brain development, social development, and the direct link to depression and anxiety to the use of technology (namely social media), why are school leaders leading this effort of posting selfies with students on social media?

I’m confused and curious about it.

Self-absorbtion seems to have infiltrated school systems, seemingly teaching kids that airing your successes matters more than the sake of being successful. Or maybe what we’re teaching them is that when people recognize your success, then that’s really success?

And I admit, I could be looking at this backward. Maybe it’s truly conscious and intentional – to share the story about what’s going on in school. Maybe it’s a genuine effort to show kids they matter. I mean, I’m really curious here. What is it about?

In his book The Craving Mind, Judson Brewer shares scientific research about addiction. Most think of drug or alcohol when thinking of addictions, but he explains five more: technology, ourselves, distraction, thinking, and love.

Here’s a story to capture the gist of classical conditioning, the idea that creates addiction, from Brewer’s book:

Two friends take a selfie outside the Louvre. The woman who posts the picture to Facebook falls for what Brewer calls the oldest trick in the evolutionary book.

Each time she has an urge to post to Facebook (trigger), posts it (behavior), and gets a bunch of likes (reward), she perpetuates the process. Consciously or unconsciously she reinforces behavior. Instead of soaking up the rich history of the Louvre, the woman stumbles around like an addict in a daze, looking for her next hit.

Don’t many of us know what he’s describing? I’m not going to pretend I don’t. I’ve missed moments with my kids in the past because I was too busy posting about it and checking in to read comments or view likes. As much as I harp about “being in the moment,” I’ve not always been in the moment. The people right in front of me were not getting my full attention. I was swapping deep abiding joy for a short-term dopamine drip.

When I realized what I was doing, I dialed it back. Way back.

Brewer goes on later to explain that feedback reassures us that we’re connected, being paid attention to. “In other words, we learn to go online or post something to our social media sites in order to get the reward that indicates we are relevant, we matter. The cycle teaches us to come back for more,” he says.

So when it comes to delicate and impressionable time in a child’s life when they need to know they matter, how might stewards of school children spend time feeding into this predicament of budding addiction?

In a 2012 study, Zach Lee and his research team found that online social interaction increased social withdrawal. People obsessively went on Facebook to feel better, yet afterward felt worse.

Perhaps some educational leaders have unknowingly become “drug” pushers.

Or maybe they’re addicted themselves.

And addicts don’t always realize the consequences of their behavior.

If this is possible, it becomes essential to look inward and determine the purpose and reward for behavior.

So what can we do?

Figure out which of our habits are creating the feeling of dis-ease and which aren’t. Which habits create satisfying lasting rewards, and which lead to a never-ending cycle of having to return to it for a boost?

This requires an openness to observe our own actions, feelings and thoughts objectively. It takes honesty on our own behalf and mindfulness.

Brewer notes that many kids arrive home after school to a lack of acknowledgment as parents don’t look up from their device in hand. Or at the dinner table (if they eat dinner together at the table), the preoccupation with devices leaves families virtually plugged in yet missing the connection with the heart-throbbing aliveness of people in their actual presence.

In families, it takes adults monitoring themselves so that kids will know how to monitor themselves.

In schools, it takes self-aware administrators monitoring themselves so that kids will know how to monitor themselves.

In the words of Judson Brewer, “through such a journey (of mindfulness)…we may uncover lasting and satisfying rewards…we may learn to live with more awareness and care, consciously deciding whether to engage in all kinds of behaviors rather than mindlessly pressing levers for dopamine spritzes.”

I wonder if eye contact, an encouraging word and a handshake would make a greater impact for our future than another selfie on social media.

Reflect: What is your personal motive behind posting on social media? What is your professional motive? Should motives even be considered when posting?

Website: ventureinspired.org

Email: inspiredleadership@essdack.org

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