Lately, I just cannot escape this topic.
In my evening snacks with Houses, students pile into my living room to talk about what is working, what could be improved, and just life in general. Inevitably, conversation turns to our overly strict cell-phone and wifi policies, and we have a great debate about whose decision it is to control technology.
This year, I am spending a great deal of time meeting with parents, past-parents and alumni, and I’ve had over 25 small group meetings in six countries. In most conversations, we also end up discussing teens and technology use. The consensus with adults is easy. They like that we do not allow phones in the dining hall or chapel. They like hearing that many teachers do not allow them in class. They like that we take phones away from grades nine and ten students overnight. They like that we shut off the wifi at night. They like that we had a speaker in to teach students to be responsible digital citizens (Check out Chris Vollum’s message). And most of all, they like that we still emphasize relationships; we have always been a community that engages deeply with each other and spends a lot of time outside.
Our teachers also talk about the benefits of less technology at school, and our reasons are sound: social media has been associated with depression, anxiety, and the fear of missing out; there’s always a concern about cyberbullying and sexting; and we worry about the limited information that teens are exposed to online when we know they need to be challenged by diverse opinions. Last year, many of us read Jean Twenge’s book called iGen. She calls children born between 1995 and 2012 the iGen, as they are the first to enter adolescence with smartphones in their hands. Her research is somewhat alarming: teens spend about nine hours each day using screens; the average teenagers processes 3,700 texts per month. Twenge reports that by their own admissions, teens are addicted to their phones.
Now before we adults get too judgmental, a 2016 Common Sense Media Study found that adults spend as much time – or more – with screens as their kids do.
Recently, on Family Day weekend, we made the long trek to Baie-St-Paul so Kevin and the kids could ski at Le Massif. We like to listen to a podcast called Making Sense by Sam Harris, and the episode we chose was Douglas Rushkoff, who explored the state of the digital economy.
So should schools do more to control technology use?
I tend to favour the belief that we should manage not avoid technology. I also believe that increasingly, one of our most important jobs is to cultivate our own healthy digital habits and model good use. (My own kids would say that I have a lot to learn!)
What I know for sure is that we must continue to talk – with teens especially! – about technology use and how to spend our time and how to portray our lives online.
And at the end of each conversation? Clarify that rule-making on technology use is an adult decision.