Seven out of 10 students ages 12-17 now have a smartphone, according to the Deseret News and BYU 2017 American Family Survey. In this digital age, it’s vital that parents and educators impress on youths the need to disengage from mobile devices during critical moments throughout the day.
It’s understandable to have a discussion about when and where it’s appropriate to allow the small screen to divert a person’s attention from whatever else they may be doing.
Certainly, texting while driving is dangerous. Gazing at the phone in a social setting can be rude. Some entertainers are demanding phones be disabled during live performances. And schoolteachers and administrators are moving to restrict students from accessing their phones during class time. Despite whatever angst temporary phone deprivation may inflict, it makes sense for educators to do what they can to make sure students’ attention is focused on the task of learning.
Mobile devices have become a ubiquitous accessory that many — perhaps too many — find hard to part with, even for a few moments. Some research has shown that people deprived of smartphone access can suffer a form of separation anxiety that can lead to health problems like higher blood pressure.
This is an unhealthy turn in human development. Data from the American Family Survey suggests relationship troubles increase in tandem with the amount of screen time partners pursue. Of those in marriages or relationships who spend more than five hours on a mobile device, 43 percent report experiencing relationship trouble.
Moreover, inordinate amounts of time spent engaging with social media, often on smartphones, has contributed to a decline in social capital — the face-to-face connections that matter most in society. A mere 8 percent of Americans now live in counties that rank high in social capital, according to a report from the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.
If left without incentives to put devices away, it stands to reason teenagers will follow these troubling trends as they mature to adulthood. And without self-mastery over habitual phone checking, students are likely to suffer in their studies, as well. Research suggests having a smartphone in class negatively affects students' grades. Clinical psychologist Richard Freed explains, "High levels of smartphone use by teens often have a detrimental effect on achievement, because teen phone use is dominated by entertainment, not learning, applications."
Putting away the phone, however, points to promising results. Scholars from the London School of Economics and Political Science found cellphone bans in classrooms had a neutral effect on high achievers, but had a positive impact on low-achieving students.
Educators, then, should work to find viable ways to minimize cellphone disruption in the classroom. An hour away from the screen won’t harm anyone, but an hour of focused study and concentration could pay dividends down the road.
One option already adopted by 600 schools in the U.S., including some in Utah, is the Yondr Pouch, a small bag that temporarily locks away mobile devices. A high school in California reports that in the year since it required the use of this phone carrier, grades have gone up, disciplinary problems have gone down and there’s a more lively environment in hallways where kids are more often seen talking to each other face to face.13 comments on this story
Educators have a responsibility to create the best learning environment possible for their pupils, and parents need to reinforce the importance of that environment by setting proper examples of media use in the home. Whatever the method used, stashing the screen during school time will create space for students to learn better, think deeper and develop more meaningful relationships. And students may just find social studies and real social interaction will prove more useful than perusing social media.