A few months ago, I wrote about the rising rate of depression in teens, attributed by many to the pressure from social media and the inability of teens to step away from their peers. My husband, Justin, and I had a conversation with our oldest children about this very thing just the other day within the context of the importance of taking breaks from their phones and friends. I said something to the effect of, “Can you imagine that when we were your age, the only phones in the house were attached to the wall by a cord?”
Recently, I posted on my Facebook page that Julia, our oldest daughter, had her phone taken away at school by the principal (i.e. me). The reason was that our school has a "no phones" policy, and she forgot to silence hers while it was in her backpack. It was distracting and a reminder that it was there. While some people laughed, others were confused about why we don’t allow our students to have phones.
“… the way we live now, where we’re forever sending off email and texts, fielding cellphone calls: where we’re no longer any one place but everywhere — and nowhere — all at once.” This statement made by author Jeffrey Eugenides in an NPR interview (May 18, 2009) summarizes the way that many adults and children now live their lives — tethered to a phone; constantly waiting for it to ring, beep or ding and otherwise validate the way we feel about ourselves through “likes” and “shares.”
When our students are on campus, we want their full attention … all of it. We don’t want them wondering if the vibration in their pocket signals a text, a snap or an Instagram post. School is, in some ways, a refuge for our students from the busyness of the world. They can remove themselves from the noise and be in one place.
Learning should be active and engaging. Walking into the classroom should evoke a sense of amazement, wonder and excitement at the things to come both that day and in the years ahead. When parents tour our school, I always point out that our students are not introduced to computers in the classroom until third grade, and then they are for research and typing. Nothing more.
A recent post on the American Montessori Society listserv asked about the technology being used in Montessori schools. There were several responses, but the one that jumped out at me was from a school in Palo Alto, Calif., the heart of Silicon Valley. The head of school described cell-free and device-free classrooms (both teachers and students), teaching coding to students ages 5-11 without using devices, and the use of a computer lab, outside the classroom, for students age 12-14. Parents whose careers depend on the use of technology are completely supportive of this educational environment that is very low tech. Could that mean that they know something the rest of us don’t?
The argument is often made that “this is the way kids these days learn” and that we need to “adapt education to meet the changing times.” However, learning via computers can be a passive approach. And with the amount of time that children spend on devices outside of school, is incorporating more screen time into the classroom a wise decision?
We know that children learn better when there is movement involved. There is also recent brain research that suggests electronic devices are just as addictive as drugs and alcohol. Dr. Delaney Ruston created the documentary "Screenagers" because she struggled, as a parent and physician, with how much time her children spent in front of a device both for socializing and doing school work. In a PBS Newshour interview, Dr. Ruston said research shows that dopamine, a major component of the brain’s reward center, gives us a rush each time we get new information from our devices — a text, Facebook or Instagram post, etc. Thus, each time dopamine is secreted, the brain craves more and seeks it out.
The use of technology in schools provides almost unlimited opportunities for enriching the classroom curriculum. As with anything, though, it should be used in moderation. A child that spends close to eight hours at school using a computer in almost all his/her classes and then spends the afterschool hours texting and playing video games may never get a brain break.
As the world becomes more technologically dependent and advanced, it is going to be more important than ever that parents and educators ensure that children are striking a balance in the time spent on devices — for their brain's and health’s sake.
Jessica Hayes is the director of The Montessori School of Fort Smith. Her column, Education Today, runs the second Friday of each month. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @fsmontessori.