No Phone; No Problem

Surprisingly, ISHCMC-AA students embraced the school’s no phone policy

This is the general feel we gained after implementing a new “no phone policy” at ISHCMC-AA this academic year. To our surprise it has been embraced with open arms. It was an idea widely supported by our students’ parents to help us help them get their kids off their device.

Students are no longer permitted to have a phone on their body during school hours; that means no phone in purses or pockets. The impact has been widely felt and with great appreciation. The push came from a documentary titled Screenagers, a film that identified the major issues with screen time affecting not only social development, but brain chemistry as well. If your school is also struggling with cell phone addiction, we strongly recommend you move towards this step with your faculty.

Over the past two years the phones became ubiquitous. Kids stared at them anytime they could. Screens were opened at lunch, on the steps, and as soon as they reached their locker. I once saw a student walking up the steps with their laptop open while scrolling on their mobile device. Most teachers felt taking away the phones would cause students to break down and cry. This much is probably true and all the more reason to have a rule against phone use in the first place. A recent psychological study from American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that adults who spent more than two hours a day on social media were twice as likely to label themselves as “isolated.” You can find hundreds of studies coming to the same conclusions.

We’ve had a few issues this year with the phones being snuck into the bathroom, or brought to class unknowingly. Now, phones are confiscated and given to the main office the first time we see them. It hasn’t been nearly as much of a toll as we thought it would be. On average teachers collect one phone a week. Syracuse University Adjunct Professor of Physics at ISHCMCAA, Andrew Mathie said, “Their attention span is much better when they don’t have a screen to distract themselves. I’m concerned about task switching when they have computers and phones, and when distractions aren’t present, it really does seem like we can get more work done, and explore topics in greater detail.”

“Away For A Day” was our first jab at a school day with no phones. It was an entire day with board games, book readings, poetry cafe, classes that promote conversation, minimal technology dependance and more. The incredible support of the teachers helped make this day possible. We found that if you gave the students something to do instead of using their phone, they didn’t express much distress. We were amazed that the children actually talked to one another. One 7th grader, who I thought would have an extreme breakdown without her phone, said to me when I asked her about school, “I just read my book instead.” The pressures students experience from social media are temporarily put on hold. A disappearance of instant gratification and dopamine hits from Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram keep kids more focused in class. We no longer worry as much about the sharing of quizzes and tests via images snapped on their cameras. Syracuse University Adjunct Professor of Calculus at ISHCMC-AA, Michael Haddad said, “The kids actually like school better this way.” And he’s right. This is unanimous. Sure, the kids want their phones back, but they don’t really know why they want them.

When we were kids most of our day was spent playing and socializing with other kids. We learned how to fight, cry, scream, compromise, cheer and laugh. The explosion of the mobile phone on teenagers’ livelihoods took away all the bonding that occurs with face-to-face conversations. Social media and our phones have connected us on a scale unknown to humanity, but has simultaneously detached us from our reality more than ever. By eliminating the phone from our school we are protecting children from the danger of growing up without knowing how to talk to people. Our students are gathering in circles again. Kids look at one another instead of their screens. They laugh, smile and make eye contact. There may even be a few more romantic crushes this year.

Needing to respond in real time has helped us identify some students who need emotional support, too. We can now help certain students develop their social skills. And though it still occurs, the bullying is much more easily targeted. It’s the physical and verbal bullying that is much easier to spot. This makes our jobs as teachers and counselors easier. Bullies can no longer hide behind a text. Kids are learning the valuable lessons of treating each other with dignity. They learn they shouldn’t type something online about someone if they wouldn’t say it to their face. The harassment kids may experience online stops once they enter our school.

The movement is growing. Cognita is about to launch an annual and international “ Global Be Well Day.” This is a day that incorporates mindfulness, social activities, well being and more. The idea is to create a school environment where people feel good. Create a place where people want to be. It’s no secret anymore, companies like Forbes and schools like ours are adopting mindfulness globally. More and more programs are targeting living your life better without a device. A new psychology course titled The Science of Well-Being is being offered by Coursera and Yale. There is a whole unit on the misconceptions of happiness that discusses our comparisons of each other’s lives online. The need to understand the brain and how it works has become more important than ever. The benefits of slowing down, thinking, being present, far outweigh the fast paced connection we’ve been told is a benefit to society.

Parents can make a difference in their child’s life. Implementing the rule is easy. Enforcing that rule is something entirely different. Model the behavior you want to have. Develop the culture at your home you want to see. Don’t want your kid to lie on the sofa aimlessly staring at the screen? Well, you shouldn’t do it either. You can try this with your colleagues, too. Be the culture you want to have at the workplace. When a colleague walks into your office, take your eyes off the laptop or mobile device. Treat each other like we are present. The people on the other end can wait. After all, this technology was invented so it can speed up connection, not replace the one we have.

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