We Need To Talk About Smartphones


A recent article in The Atlantic titled Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?  asserts some dire outcomes due to the use of SmartPhones by our children. While I would say that the headline is a bit hyperbolic, I do think that the article is a must read for all parents and educators.

Here are a few of the excerpts that caught my attention, along with some of my thoughts and questions:

 The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household.

Sadly, I don’t think that SmartPhones have radically changed the way that teenagers are educated. I can’t help wondering if we were more proactive in seeing the opportunity of a web-connected device in every student’s hand if we could have avoided some of the negative consequences outlined. What if we had embraced SmartPhones? What if we at least talked about the implication of these devices for our kids and worked with families to come up with a plan to help our students find some balance?

The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.

Electronic devices and social media seem to have an especially strong ability to disrupt sleep.

I can’t help thinking that there is a direct connection to the time spent on devices looking at social media and the lack of sleep. I would love to know the percentage of teens who have their phones in their rooms and are looking at these devices late at night.  I know teens tend to be sleep-deprived in the best of circumstances, but in how many cases is this due to the presence of a SmartPhone in their room?

As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.

I realize that restricting technology might be an unrealistic demand to impose on a generation of kids so accustomed to being wired at all times.

We need to help our kids understand the impact that devices are having on their lives. Are they suffering from Fear of Missing Out? I wrote a bit about this back in February of 2016.

This brings me to my next area of discussion which is about the behavior of adults in our device-laden world. I am sure that I have not always done the best job modeling for my kids in regards to the importance of being present and enjoying some tech-free time. I am guessing that I am not alone in this… How many adults are also stressed out and/or depressed due to the prevalence of SmartPhones in our world?

While we could spend a great deal of time looking at all of the areas of concern outlined in this article, the more constructive activity would be to start creating supports to ensure that we do not continue these destructive patterns.  Thankfully, we have resources like Jennifer Casa-Todd’s Social LEADia  that can help us as we build this support system in our school community.





Are Digital Devices Paralyzing Your Productivity?

Back in January, I wrote a bit about Infomania, the state where an individual is so obsessed with the flow of information from technological devices that their ability to focus routine tasks is greatly inhibited.  We all need to have a sense of awareness of the hold that the constant stream of information coming through technological devices has on us. In many cases, today’s technologically focused individuals have no idea just how inefficient they have become due to the unhealthy hold that their devices have on their attention.
The inspiration for my earlier post (and this one) is the Infomagical Project that was developed by the folks at Note to Self, a great podcast that looks at the impact that technology plays in our lives. The Infomagical project proposes daily challenges for people to undertake in order to recover some of the balance in their lives and reduce their preoccupation with technology.
As we head into the summer, it is a great time to revisit this topic and renew our commitment to finding a sense of equilibrium in this endless battle against the flow of digital information and stay present and productive in our personal and professional lives. Thankfully, this week’s Note to Self podcast highlights the most important challenge from the one-week project back in January with its Infomagical Boot Camp focused on single tasking.
I challenge you all to focus for 20 minutes on this week’s 20-minute podcast and think about the role technology plays in your life. Is it a healthy balance or are you jumping from one task to another without completing anything you started? Maybe some of you didn’t get this far down in this post without interruptions due to email alerts or social media updates…
Good luck with the single-task challenge!


Schools Must Foster Parent Conversations About Students and Digital Devices

With most school leaders looking to add more web-enabled devices to their schools and classrooms, they are all but certain to get questions from parents within these communities who will raise concerns about the fact that their students will be dealing with more screen time in their day.  While some may be quick to respond that we are just setting up environments for students to replicate the realities of the gadget-driven workplaces that our students will soon be inhabiting, it is important to take some time and have community-wide discussions about the topic of screen time. These conversations can help reduce anxiety for parents who see their children inhabiting classrooms that have technological resources quite different than what they experienced.
Increased conversations will help parents put into perspective alarming headlines that come out regarding the negative consequences of using electronics. Sometimes the most important takeaways from these headlines can be found well down the page, a place many do not see. One such headline appeared this past week in a New York Times article by Jane E. Brody titled Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on ChildrenWhile I am sure the headline is accurate in regards to the state of children and their time spent on devices, a passing glance at the story and the first three paragraphs of the article only gives enough information to scare people away from device use.
Therefore in my third paragraph, I will introduce my two biggest takeaways and bullet them below:
  • This is not a new problem: Television remains the dominant medium.
  • According to a Kaiser Foundation study, many parents seem to have few rules about use of media by their children and adolescents.
These bullets tell me that the most meaningful intervention we can make as school leaders is to offer support to parents to assist them in navigating the overwhelming new world of parenting in the digital age. This is not an area where parents can look back at how they were parented for experience: they are traveling this course with no roadmap. We need to bring parents together and let them share their successes, failures, and fears of parenting digital natives. While there is a great deal more to discuss on this topic, it is critical that school communities share openly about the pros and cons of students being able to connect anywhere, anytime. My recommendation would be quarterly parent forums on topics surrounding digital tools where parents have an opportunity to learn and share. In Burlington, our educational technology team runs multiple Parent Technology Nights throughout the course of the school year to foster these important conversations. 
Access to new technologies is far from a panacea, but it is also does not need to be viewed as the demise of our future generations. The best advice I have on figuring out the delicate balance in regards to screen-time for our children comes from my friend Beth Holland. I shared Beth’s three simple questions that should be asked before deciding whether a child needs to be in front of a device in a post I wrote titled A Great Conversation on the Technology Concerns of Parents Regarding 1:1. The three questions are as follows:
  1. Is it appropriate?
  2. Is it meaningful?
  3. Is it empowering?
If we can get our students to ask these same questions before they decide to bury their faces in a screen, we will be on the right track!

A Great Conversation On The Technology Concerns Of Parents Regarding 1:1

2 to 1 at Home
photo via Wesley Fryer on Flickr 

As I was playing catchup on my blog reading from the last couple of weeks, I came across a great post from Scott McLeod on the topic of parents choosing to opt out of their students having a device in a 1:1 setting.  The major questions that Scott asks here are certainly ones that have been wrestled with in every school that has implemented a 1:1 program:

“Should parents have the right to refuse or limit a 1:1 initiative – or other educational technology usage – for their children? If so, in practical terms how would that work (e.g., would schools be required to provide analog assignments and/or homework)? What do you think?”

When it comes to supporting parents here in Burlington, my typical response is “we own the device, but you own the child.” We need to try to work with parents to help them ensure that they can find the balance of screen-time that they feel is warranted for their children. The problem here, however, is that this is far from a black and white issue due to the fact that most debates on this topic we tend to leave out the purpose of the time that students spend online. Personally, I think there is a difference between a couple of hours spent researching and creating a multi-media project as opposed to a couple of hours spent playing candy crush.

With this in mind, it is imperative that schools communicate with parents in regards to the expectations for device use at home. What tasks will students have to have access to their device to perform? Also, what tasks will students be able to complete with devices that are already at home (and which parents have a better grasp on monitoring)?  The comments on Scott”s post offer some wonderful insights into responding to these issues. One in particular comes from Sandy Kendell, an Educational Technology Specialist in Texas who provided the link to a great blog post Parent Concerns in a 1:1 Initiative. Kendell nails what is at the heart of the issue for parents:

“Keep in mind, the child being able to say, “I’m working on my homework” is somewhat of a game-changer when it comes to supporting and setting limits. How easily could you tell your child to just put the technology away when it could be impacting their grades?”

Sandy’s post is one of the best I have read in regards to the conversations that need to take place in order to support the dramatic change that a 1:1 school can have for parents and students at home. Another must-read link in the comments is to Beth Holland’s post The Balancing Act of Screentime. Beth really gets to the heart of the matter in regards to what we need to ask ourselves concerning device usage and our children by asking three simple questions:

  • Is it Appropriate? 
  • Is it Meaningful? 
  • Is it Empowering?
  • It is definitely worthwhile to read all of the 32 comments from Scott’s post. There is so much more to talk about on this topic.  I particularly like the direction that Lyn Hilt takes the conversation in her comment about ensuring that work assigned as homework (whether on a device or not) is meaningful. However, I’ll leave that for a discussion on another day.

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