Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a nerd. In today’s tech-heavy world, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We all understand that we benefit greatly from much of what our technology has brought us. From the Gutenberg press to the ubiquitous smart phone, our lives have benefited greatly. However, as Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Our world has been radically altered in the past decade by smart phones that provide instant connection to friends, social media and the always-open spigot of information which washes over us endlessly. Some research seems to indicate that these types of distractions can be especially damaging to students and their ability to learn.
A recent article in “Business Insider” told the story of seven adults who went undercover as high school students and found that social media impacts many kids more than we might think. The seven individuals were part of an A&E documentary entitled “Undercover High” that sought to highlight the challenges faced by students and staff at a high school in Kansas. Primary findings included:
- teachers often struggled to get students to disengage from the phone so that they could engage in class
- student conflicts were amplified via social media
- students often did not understand the implications of what they were posting on social media
I found the comment by one of the seven undercover actors particularly interesting. Speaking of cyber-bullying, Mr. Shane Feldman (class of 2012) said “Bullying has been a thing since the beginning of time, but it’s very different today. The 24/7 nature of it, the way that it transfers onto the online word, has an impact on everything…The kinds of challenges that I experienced in high school along with my peers are now 24/7 issues because of technology, computers, cell phones, and social media. There’s no real escape.”
The bottom line: While smart phones obviously have positive aspects (convenience, greater personal security, access to information, etc.), they also distract and encourage inappropriate behaviors. Since smart phones will likely be with us for quite a while, perhaps we should determine what adults can do to help kids navigate their proper use. Dr. Gail Gross wrote an article about this very topic; here are some excerpts:
1. Remember that tweens and teens with cell phones are still children. If you decide to give a tween or a teen a cell phone, you must remember that the brain of this child isn’t yet done forming. Scans show that the parts of the brain that manage impulse control and planning ahead are not finished developing in an adolescent brain, and in fact, are among the last parts of the brain to mature. So, teens may still feel like they are invincible; [they may] take risks, embrace danger and believe they are unbreakable and that nothing bad can happen.
2. Specify phone usage hours. Determine the time your teen can start using his or her cell phone and when the cell phone must be shut off for the night. You can even take the phone away at night and return the phone to your child in the morning. Studies show that kids actually like having these times set by parents, because it also gives them a socially acceptable “out” from having to be tethered to their phones for their friends 24/7.
3. Communicate with your child often and openly. In a recent study, 26% of teens report being harassed or bullied via text messages or phone calls. This makes it critical for teens to feel that they can trust their parents enough to communicate if they are the victim of bullying or harassment via cell phones.
4. Know what the rules are at school. Each school has its own rules regarding cell phone usage on the premises. Some schools forbid student cell phones at all on school grounds, some allow cell phones to be kept in student lockers or backpacks, while others allow limited cell phone usage in-between classes or even during class time to aid with assignments.
5. Lay out the consequences clearly and from the beginning. Make sure your child knows that if X happens, then the consequence will be Y — and, make sure that you follow through with the consequence.
6. Consider a cell phone contract between you and your child. Take all of the cell phone usage guidelines you would like to set forth and print them out in an agreement that you and your child both sign. If you need inspiration, there are several online, including this popular contract and this printable cell phone contract that you can download and print out.
7. It is a parent’s job to teach teens that becoming an adult means finding and asserting your own authority. This is a great opportunity to model for your child what it means to be an adult by showing confidence in your rules and also by gaining their trust. At the end of the day, parents must parent. When teens learn to find their own authority, they learn that people cannot pressure them. What you are modeling for your children is that strong central core so they’re not vulnerable to peer group socialization.