Middle School

Smartphones

I am very pleased with the support from parents and the response of our students to the rule implemented this year that student phones be kept in lockers.

The issues around the use of smartphones have confronted schools, families, and in fact our entire society exceptionally quickly. It is only in recent times that we have begun to hear of the effects these devices and the internet have on the iGen (students who have been born since the internet was introduced). The true effects of the constant connectedness, use of social media, gaming, and the amount of screen time experienced by the iGen, have been an unknown. How to deal with a child’s obsession with their devices and wanting to be connected is a new frontier. Most teachers and parents did not experience the world the iGen are experiencing, so how we manage it has been difficult to answer.  One thing we do know is that the technology is not going away and that we need to understand the effects and ensure our children’s use of this technology is not detrimental to their health and development.

As much as concerns have been expressed for some time about the effects of technology and social media, these fears were highlighted when key people in the Facebook organisation began raising alarms.  Last year, Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, told the media that he does not allow his children to access social media. Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, said in an interview at Stanford's Graduate School of Business that social media was damaging society. But where is the evidence?

I recently read an article based on the research of Jean Twenge. Twenge is an American psychologist who has been researching generational differences. The article is titled, ‘Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?, and provides some interesting and disturbing statistics about the iGen compared to previous generations..

She states that the positives of this IGen’s world is that they are less likely to have car accidents, drink alcohol and take unnecessary risks. They attend parties a great deal less than previous generations and have little desire to be independent resulting in them living in the family home for much longer. The allure of being independent meant I left home when I was eighteen, but that is unheard of these days.

The reasons for these positive outcomes is that the number of teens who get together with their friends in person has dropped by more than 40% according to Twenge. How adolescents relate to each other has changed dramatically. In my day, when I was bored I would go to the neighbour’s place, knock on the door and ask whether my friend could come out to play. These days young people are in their bedrooms connecting with each other through social media. Twenge states ‘The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day has dropped by more than 40% from 2000 to 2015…. They’ve all been replaced by virtual spaces accessed through apps and the web’. I am sure this statistic fits with many parent’s experiences. Parents have told me that their child did not see any of their friends during the entire Summer break but connected with friends online.

However, many of the statistics Twenge provides paints an even darker picture. The incidents of mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and generally feeling lonely and unhappy have increased dramatically for kids of the IGen.  We have seen this change in schools and what I find disturbing is that the issues of anxiety and depression seem to be affecting students of much younger ages than ever before. Some interesting, but disturbing statistics that I have pulled out of the article are below:

  • ‘Eighth graders who spend 10 hours a week on social media are 56% more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.’
  • ‘Teens feeling of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since.’
  • ’The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.’
  • ‘Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27%.’
  • ‘Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan.’
  • Girls have borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21% from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50% - more than twice as much.’

The serious effect that cyber-bullying can have on young people has been documented for some time. The need to be constantly connected is sometimes so engaging that teens remain in online conversations that are abusive and/or exclusive. Social media has exacerbated the teenage concern about being left out. Another Twenge statistic: ‘Forty eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more for boys’.

And then there is the problem of sleep deprivation. Sleep experts say that teens should get about nine hours sleep a night. However, ‘Teens who spend three hours a day on electronic devices are 28 percent more likely to get less than 7 hours sleep.’  We certainly have seen this in some of our students, who unashamedly confess that they were up very late gaming or checking social media.

So, what does it all mean? What should we, as responsible adults, do? Well firstly it is not all doom and gloom, but there is enough to be concerned about to take some action. Placing limits on our children’s use of the technology, as the school has done by ensuring phones are in lockers, is one strategy. But educating young people about the appropriate and responsible use of the technology and modelling appropriate behaviour are the most effective strategies. If you are not sure what I mean regarding modelling behaviour then watch this cute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ge_Wa6azMpA

As teachers and parents, we certainly need to be aware and we need to be informed. I have come across a couple of websites that you may find useful:

If you would like to read the article I have referred to, it can be found at: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/

Paul Ryan

Head of Middle School