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.





Social LEADia – An Important Read for Everyone

One of my first summer reads of the summer was Jennifer Casa-Todd’s Social LEADia.  This book covers all of the angles to help educators and parents understand the critical role that digital resources will play in the success of our students. The book is broken down into the following three sections:
  1. Why Digital Leadership Matters
  2. What Digital Leadership Looks Like
  3. How We Make Digital Leadership Happen In Schools




I. Why Digital Leadership Matters


The opening section of the book makes a clear case for why we need to be moving beyond scaring students (and their parents) about the behaviors they need to avoid in utilizing social media tools. Our job in schools is to help students create a digital identity that will help get them where they need to go.  In addition, we need to support parents in our school communities develop a comfort level with digital tools so that they can also support their children.
Casa-Todd makes a clear case for the fact that we can no longer separate digital literacy from literacy and because of this those who wish to be considered literate need to understand how to use digital tools communicate and learn.  In order for this to happen, we need to ensure that educators also have the necessary comfort level to support students in this area.  She notes the following:

“So, for student to become successful, they need to be proficient in all literacies, not just the traditional ones we’re accustomed to or with which we are comfortable…We need to help students see that their blogging texting and tweeting on social media is real writing.”

In addition to students utilizing social media tools to communicate and create, it has also become the primary source through which many people get their news.  With this in mind, we need to help our students understand the sources of the information coming at them. Casa-Todd cited a November 2016 Stanford University research study of 7,804 students found that “students have trouble judging the credibility of information online.”

The final big reason under “Why” concerns supporting our students in finding balance in their lives regarding the use of digital devices/tools.  Casa-Todd asks her students one important question – “Is your device helping you or distracting you?” She adds the following, “when I co-teach with teachers where cell-phone distraction is an ongoing concern, we explicitly make self-regulation a learning goal we assess.”

If we do not lead our students to this sense of self-awareness then we will come up short of fulfilling their potential in this area.

II. What Digital Leadership Looks Like

This section of the book gives a number of concrete examples of how we can support students in finding meaningful online connections that will support their ongoing learning.
Resources like the Digital Human Library as well as Twitter hashtags like #GlobalEd,  #EduMatch, #cblchat  (for connections-based learning) are just a few of the resources that Casa-Todd highlights which allow educators to jump right in and start building their Professional Learning Networks PLN’s) so they can model what this looks like for students to do the same.
Casa-Todd states the following regarding this topic:

“Remember, social media os defined as tool or platforms through which people can engage ‘in a large-scale conversation, exploration, and opinion sharing’ and ‘create and share their own content.'”

A critical part of this equation is curation, the ability of students to find relevant sources of information and decide if they are reliable.  If we are not providing opportunities for our students to locate and evaluate resources, then we are doing them a disservice in this area.

III. How We Make Digital Leadership Happen In Schools

The final section of the book looks at ways we can set up schools and classrooms that empower students to be digital leaders.  Casa-Todd shares some very authentic ways that other teachers have allowed their students to gain experience with digital tools.  She notes the following:

“It is important that we travel alongside our students on this journey and be mentors for them.”

This mentoring needs to start early on in elementary school with teachers following the lead of some of the examples outlined in this section (i.e. classroom Tweeter, Instagrammer, and Snapchatter of the Day, or a rotating classroom PR team to update the classroom blog and social media accounts.).

Casa-Todd makes the point that allowing students to gain a comfort level in promoting all of the positive things happening in their classroom will help them build a great foundation for promoting other causes that they become involved in down the road:

“We need to consider the extent to which our students can create (or are already creating) a positive change and how that positivity can spread via social media.”

As I mentioned earlier, this book is full of practical examples that will allow teachers to begin or deepen the depth of their students’ engagement in utilizing digital tools for learning. There are also great discussion questions at the end of each chapter that will allow teams of teachers or entire school communities to read this book together in order to expand conversations in this area.  Even if you are the only one in your school reading this book, you can connect with all of the other educators around the globe who are also reading it by going to the Twitter hashtag #SocialLEADia and sharing your insights.

In concluding this post, I will leave you with one final quote from the book:

“Social media and technology affect everything our kids do, so we need to stop teaching as if they don’t exist.”

If you are wondering where to start in this overwhelming area,  Casa-Todd has given you a path…