A Call to Action for the Technology at our Fingertips

Every day we hear more sobering statistics on the impact technology has on children. For example, students with smartphones unlock them approximately every fifteen minutes during waking hours, interact with them on average five minutes each time, and spend a total of four and a half hours per day on devices. During a typical fifteen-minute stretch of studying, teens spend about a third of their time being distracted by technology. Connected with this usage, we are now seeing the anxiety level of teens dramatically rise. Sleep deprivation is increasing as children use devices before bedtime and greater numbers of pop-up notifications arrive in the middle of the night. It should come as no surprise, then, that more and more teachers are observing a decline in students’ ability to sustain their focus and are reporting a higher rate of poor academic performance that could be caused by all of the above.

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Those of us who work in schools want to do more to address this trend, but admittedly, teachers have only so much control over what students do outside of school. In order to successfully change these habits and reverse the trends we are now seeing in our society, schools need to partner with parents and caregivers to develop and implement consistent rules for how and when children have access to technology. Some guidelines to consider: speak with children about how sleep is essential for their physical and emotional well-being and consider developing a pledge with friends for no social media after a reasonable hour in the evening. And remember to have children turn off alerts and notifications after this hour, too. Promote tech-free activities such as dinner or car rides to encourage more conversation and time to connect. And dedicate lengths of time to be tech-free while studying, perhaps starting with twenty minutes and then building up to greater periods before checking messages. Children may even activate an auto-reply to text messages that notify friends they are not on their device and will be back in touch after a certain period of time.    

When one considers how quickly our relationship to technology has changed since the first smartphones hit the market a decade ago, it’s clear that its impact is only going to become more dramatic from here. Unless teachers, parents, and caregivers work together, students are likely to face even greater challenges as they develop their technology habits. It’s time to take the research and statistics to heart and develop thoughtful guidelines that will help students develop healthier relationships with the technology that’s all around them.  

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