October 14, 2019
Melissa Dan, Ed.S., Head of School, School of the Holy Child, Rye, NY
As published by the New York Daily News on 8/29/19
Like many educators working with children and teenagers, over the past 20 years, I have witnessed a decline in students’ desire and ability to engage with their peers, navigate difficult or face-to-face conversations, and simply “be” in the moment.
I remember getting my first smartphone as a school principal in 2007. Everything became so much ”easier.” Now, over 10 years later, with the proliferation of smartphones, we have seen that hyperconnectivity came with costs. At times, we have all witnessed an erosion of our work/life balance, our health, attention and our relationships.
Research on cellphones and student learning is clear and points to the fact that the mere presence of a smartphone reduces an adolescent’s cognitive capacity to learn. My observations as a pseudo-teenage anthropologist affirms this. When students do not have the freedom of accessing their phones during school hours, all research supports that they are more engaged academically and socially.
It’s not surprising that when the cellphone is away for the day while at school, it increases a student’s ability to engage with the material as well as opportunities to connect with their peers and teachers.
That is why, beginning this fall, students at our school will not be allowed to utilize cellphones during the school day. As adults, our faculty intend to model this for our students. We are focused on the teaching, learning and engagement of our students during the crucial hours of the school day. As parents, it is important to give children the freedom to focus on their “job” during the day — which is being full-time students. I’d urge other schools to consider a similar policy.
And parents can help by changing their behavior too. My advice to mothers and fathers: Please do not text your child during the school day. I have certainly been guilty of it countless times, but let’s realize that when we are texting a child or teenager during the school day, where they are meant to be independent and developing their coping skills, we are eroding their development and creating a co-dependency that will not serve them long term.
Smartphones have become a way of life, a definite convenience. They have impacted all of our lives in one way or another.
But with rates of anxiety and depression on the rise, it’s our job, as the adults, to set our children up for a life of fulfillment, passion, courage and compassion. None of these happens virtually. When recently at a beautiful restaurant in Italy, I noticed a family of four where the teenagers and parents spent an entire meal only engaging with their smartphones. It hurt my soul.
Let’s attempt to model for our children what we expect to see in them. We’ll screw up and they’ll call us on it, but we’ll try harder the next day. They deserve nothing less.