Time to hang up the (cell) phone in schools
Has anybody seen a teenager lately? Or even a child, for that matter, with fast and strong thumbs? No, because they’re all playing in the modern sandbox of their computer screens. You can’t see kids’ faces anymore, but whose fault is that? Adults are so buried in their own cellphones they wouldn’t even know a teen was walking toward them on the sidewalk unless they got a text message.
We’ve become a society addicted to the phones and iPads and electronic notebooks being used for everything from social media and games to online shopping and one-on-one communication. Today, the addiction is reaching pandemic proportions and its caustic effects are becoming more apparent every day.
Wherever we go – movie theaters, school events and now even churches – someone is reminding us to “turn off your cellphone.” I was in a restaurant the other day when I noticed a family of four all using their cellphones with little if any general conversation taking place among them because they were immersed in their screens. At one local church not long ago, the worship leader stopped his homily to offer a ringing phone’s owner the chance to take the call before he would continue.
It takes a remarkable leader or a special group willing to question the prevailing beliefs to take on the problem. I’m happy to have learned that we have one in our own local school district.
Last week, Hastings Schools Superintendent Dan Remenap announced that cellphone use by students during school hours will not be allowed beginning the second semester, pending approval by the board of education. In a letter to parents, Remenap said the change was based on the constant misuse of the devices during the day and the school’s commitment to educational excellence.
I count that ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency as one of the tests of good leadership, and it couldn’t be demonstrated at a more important time than the present when a recent K-12 education analysis by the Cato Institute, the respected libertarian research organization, ranks Michigan 36th among the 50 states. Even though state leaders continue to pour more money into education, it will not have the desired impact unless we provide a strong environment in which students can learn. And that means getting rid of the distraction of cellphones.
The new policy proposed by Remenap also supports Michigan’s anti-cyberbullying laws and the corresponding increase in the number of students more likely to have a risk factor for suicide or other behavioral issues. Whether teens are watching videos or looking at something substantive, the amount of screen time – not the specific content – goes hand-in-hand with higher instances of depression.
According to a recent Pew Research Report, “Nearly all – 95 percent – of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent claim they are ‘almost constantly’ on the internet.” In fact, the survey found that teens are on their phones as much as nine hours a day. That amount of screen time is finally raising concerns from parents, educators, policymakers and a growing number of medical experts concerned with the effects the overuse is having on our young people.
Even though the data remains controversial, most scientists agree there are a growing number of health threats associated with the overuse of cellphones. According to the National Cancer Institute, people who talk on the cellphone for several hours a day are 50 percent more likely to develop brain cancer due to the radio waves produced by mobile phones. According to the NCI’s calculations, every minute the human brain receives about 220 electromagnetic impulses, which are not necessarily harmful, but which definitely affect the brain in cases of prolonged impact.
This mounting data is pushing a growing number of school districts across the state – including Forest Hills Public Schools to our north, which began a cellphone ban at the start of the current school year – to look at their cellphone-use policies during the school day. And school districts aren’t alone. Some states, and even countries, have banned or are considering banning the use of cellphones during the work day. Companies continue to struggle with employees using cellphones during the workday, impacting production and even raising safety concerns when employees are distracted by their devices.
Also a concern for schools, of course, are the effects of cellphone use on students’ psychological and emotional health and the interference it puts on the learning process, especially important during the years when critical brain development occurs.
Another study, released by the University of San Diego, concludes that students frequently on their cellphones are “twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety as low-level users of cellphones.” Some experts even warn that obsessive cellphone use may in fact be a physiological addiction, since the brain releases the chemical dopamine, as part of the brain’s pleasure circuitry with each digital notification.
The University of San Diego study goes on to conclude “there’s emerging evidence that phones in schools can be a barrier to learning.” Even though many see cellphones as a way for teens to connect with other people, cellphone use is becoming a way to avoid face-to-face interactions, making it more difficult for teens to deal with every day one-on-one communications – in the classroom and at home.
A growing number of teens are impacted by at least one of three emotions when they don’t have access to their phones – loneliness, being upset, and/or feeling anxious. When asked, teens expressed mixed views on whether they are on their phones too much. The University of San Diego report indicates that 54 percent of teens worry they spend too much time on their phones, and of those, roughly half, 53 percent, say they haven’t or can’t cut back on their use.
According to the study, half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month, and one-third send more than 100 texts a day or more than 3,000 a month. Fifteen percent of teen texters admitted sending more than 200 texts a day or more than 6,000 texts a month, confirming the Pew report that indicates, “Students are hooked on their phones.”
Experts say it’s the parents’ responsibility to monitor their children’s activity by limiting use, checking contents and monitoring their general behavior. In a growing number of cases, though, parents are just as guilty – spending more time on their phones then they do with their kids, disrupting the quality time kids need with their parents. Research has shown that more than 72 percent of parents are engaged in phone use during the time spent with their children in a restaurant. And 65 percent of mothers reported cellphones intruding into the time they set aside to play with their kids.
Based on these facts, it’s clear that we’re all distracted by our phones, which is driving lower awareness and sensitivity, fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions and dissatisfaction with the time we spend with our children, family and friends. As we continue to enjoy the wonderful advances technology is bringing to our lives it’s also becoming evident that we must continue to consider the research and ramifications of these emerging advances and the impact they will have on our lives and the lives of our children.
Kudos to the Hastings school district for realizing the threat and acting on an issue that can help create a better learning place for all of our students.
Fred Jacobs, CEO,
J-Ad Graphics Inc.