This article, “13 right now” by Jessica Contrera came across my twitter feed via Fran Siracusa with the message, “This topic deserves a chat discussion.” It’s one of a few posts I’ve seen published by the Washington Post in their “Screen Age” series and captures the nuances of a 13-year old, Katherine Pommerening and her life online.
It definitely deserves more than a chat discussion as there are so many different layers and issues addressed about which ongoing conversations at the school level with teachers, at the District level, and with parents are necessary. I may need a series of blog-posts to work through it all.
Consider this paragraph written about 13 year-old Katherine:
She doesn’t respond, her thumb on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There’s a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then “28 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Both British and American.” She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend’s mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They’re home. Twelve minutes have passed.
It infers that teens today are “addicted” to technology and social media which is a common narrative. In my recent talk to a group of K-5 parents in Mississauga, I was surprised by how many of their questions were around how much time is too much time online and what to do about their child’s “addiction” to technology.
This also touches on the idea that kids have few opportunities to sit and stare at a blank wall thinking about what they can do, because there is a whole world of stuff to do through their cellphones. Think about a typical routine car ride: in the twelve minutes that Katherine is in the car with her father, there might have been some light banter but mostly silence. Once upon a time, that silence would have been taken up with staring out the window, thinking about a variety of things. Now, it can be taken up with reading, writing (texting), and connecting to others. Adults see this outwardly as an addiction; as a bad thing.
But is it really?
When I talk to (or more aptly get grumpy with ) my own 13-year old about sitting on the couch and checking her feeds her response to me is: But we aren’t doing anything. You could argue (as Katherine’s dad states in the article) that when we were young, we would be forced to go and do something–playing outside, playing a game, riding a bike, etc… But truthfully she does go out and engage face to face with friends. If we are having dinner, walking the dog, swimming, when she is horseback riding, etc… she is fully engaged and doesn’t have her phone. To fill up her time, she’d prefer flip through her phone rather than watch t.v. And truthfully, I have to admit that as a child who has always been a non-reader, she is reading much more on the Snapchat Discover feature than she has ever spent reading a physical book or magazine. So this isn’t a bad thing either.
Is it addiction?
But are kids “addicted”? And if so are they addicted to social media or are they addicted to being with her friends?
Cecilie Andreassen of the University of Bergen, Norway who studied Facebook addiction, found addiction occurred more regularly among younger users than older users. She also identified that people who are anxious and socially insecure use social media more than others, possibly because those who suffer from social anxiety find it easier to communicate via social media than face to face. (Harvey, 2014, pg 1). I haven’t been a teen for a long time, but there is no doubt that adolescence is the most significant time of social angst in one’s life!
In “The Invisible Addiction: Cellphone Activities and Addiction among Male and Female College Students,” a study based the online survey responses of 164 college students, found that approximately 60 percent of college students admit they may be addicted to their cell phone” (Baylor, 2014).
Yet scholars actually can’t agree as to whether or not the social media platform itself that is “addictive” or the functionality of the tool and what it does for the user. The reality is that “[e]xcessive usage of social media is only beginning to be examined in a modern, media -laden world as a possible psychiatric disorder” (Harvey, 2014, pg 4) as the cultural adoption of these platforms are increasing so dramatically.
danah boyd, in her book, “It’s Complicated: The Networked life of teens is critical of associating the word “addiction” with teen’s engagement with social media. She states, “[t]he overarching media narrative is that teens lack the capacity maintain healthy relationships with social media. It depicts passionate engagement with technology as an illness that society must address. It is easier for adults to blame technology for undesirable outcomes than to consider other social, cultural, and personal factors that may be at play” (boyd, 2014, pg 79). So in the example of parenting or education what are such factors that might be at play?
Cellphone/Social Media dependence the classroom
I have spoken to educators who are so frustrated because even with clear boundaries established in the classroom, teenagers cannot help but check their notifications as they pop up. The addiction narrative is intermingled with the distraction one. Kids are constantly checking their phones, so we ban them as a common response. There are so many NO CELLPHONE signs that still adorn school and classroom doors.
And then I read a chapter on Education and Flow, by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi which speaks to the theory of “flow” (a pyschological state whereby you are so involved in an activity that you lose track of time or anything else) and started to think about flow and cellphone distraction and/or dependence.
In one of his studies, Csikszentmihalyi gives teachers and students a pager. When the pager goes off, both record exactly what they are doing and thinking at the time. Take a look at the difference of the teacher response vs the student response:
His conclusion is that the kids didn’t engage with the content in a way that the teacher did. He further goes on to say, “…people will seek out flow anyway. If they can’t find it in school, they will find it somewhere else. (pg 140)”
Today, I would argue that the “somewhere else” is the cell phone where kids have a whole world of connections and entertainment in their pocket.
In the Baylor university study mentioned above, one college student said, “Cellphones may wind up being an escape mechanism from their classrooms” (Baylor, 2014). This is a very harsh assessment but one that may give us pause to think about the extent to which our classrooms are places where learning comes alive for students and where they are involved?
Are students less likely to continually check their cellphones if they are engaged in student-centered, inquiry driven classrooms?
Does teaching and learning which involves cell phones reduce the likelihood of students checking their phones for non-school related tasks?
Is it far better to have cellphones on desks and have conversations about dependence and self-regulation than it does to ban them completely (only to have students sneak them in their desks, take frequent bathroom breaks, and other potential behavioural responses)?
Is teaching self-regulation when it comes to technology use as important as any of the 6 Cs?
Despite the most engaging and interactive classrooms and reflective practices, are students still engaging in problematic behaviours when it comes to using their cellphones/social media excessively? What are some effective ways to deal with this?
Would love to hear your thoughts and strategies!
Baylor university; cellphone addiction ‘an increasingly realistic possibility,’ baylor study finds. (2014). NewsRx Health & Science, , 60. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.uproxy.library.dc-uoit.ca/docview/1561337547?accountid=14694
boyd, danah (2014). It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven: Yale
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Applications of flow in human development and education : The collected works of mihaly csikszentmihalyi (1;2014; ed.). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9094-9
Harvey, K. (2014). Addiction, social media. InEncyclopedia of social media and politics (Vol. 3, pp. 18-19). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781452244723.n5