Preparing Boys for Life.

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Unplugged: a week without cell phones
Brian Long, Upper School history and finance teacher

Technology and smartphone use has become the catch-22 for our adolescent generation. As a teacher, I often hear parents lamenting that old-fashioned facetime has been replaced with FaceTime, and that their children are absorbed in their phones, unable to see the world around them. 

I thought I’d do something about it. I convinced nine high school students to lock their cell phones in a safe for a week. Could they do it? I wanted them to try something together and challenge this notion of smartphone addiction. They all agreed to give up their phones for seven days, so long as I did it with them. We would lead this new generation of tech balance!  So I thought.  

A Pew Research survey of 700+ teens published in 2018 found that they recognize how much time they spend on their phones, on social media, and playing video games, and that they try to cut back. 

What we learned was obvious, in some ways. My students noted that they had more meaningful conversations and interactions. At times they felt alone. While standing in line for lunch, they were stuck without a phone to bury their eyes in, but their peers were engrossed in Instagram or text messages.

One student recalled running back to his mom’s car to get a magazine before leaving on the bus for a track meet. She was confused, wondering why he wouldn’t just talk with his friends on the bus. His response: “They’ll just be on their phones.” 

My students noted that they had more meaningful conversations and interactions. At times they felt alone. While standing in line for lunch, they were stuck without a phone to bury their eyes in, but their peers were engrossed in Instagram or text messages.

While we want our children to look up at the world around them, we also expect our children to respond the moment we check in with them. Is that fair? Can we expect that adolescents buffet the primary vehicle of their social lives while we still expect our sons and daughters to respond the moment we check in with them or track their movements during the day? 

Ultimately, I learned how ingrained smartphones are in adolescent culture. Just because this is foreign to me and many of my students' parents, it doesn’t discount how integrally important devices are to the social development of our teens. Whether we like it or not, many teens’ social lives require a smartphone. 

Ultimately, I learned how ingrained smartphones are in adolescent culture. Just because this is foreign to me and many of my students' parents, it doesn’t discount how integrally important devices are to the social development of our teens. 

While there are certainly healthy boundaries that can be developed in the home and classroom, how can adults expect to truly understand the lives of teens if we don’t allow ourselves to feel some discomfort and challenge ourselves with them? Teachers and parents need to be willing to jump into experiments like this to gain a greater understanding of our student’s experiences.  

Images from UC Health and Statista.com