Are Smartphones in School Really Smart?
Smartphones have become a staple in the lives of today’s teens. Many teens even see their phone as another appendage. Smartphones can be a wonderful tool. Yet, now more than ever, teens need guidance on how to form and prioritize face-to-face relationships. In this day and age, how can schools build an environment that promotes healthy habits surrounding technology use?
This is easier said than done. Society inundates us with a seemingly limitless array of distractions. Developing the ability for deep focus and deep friendships takes time and practice. To that end, a school should craft technology policies that create many opportunities for authentic learning and authentic friendships to grow.
One of the ways this can be done is by asking that students’ cell phones be kept turned off and in their lockers during school hours. The results of this policy are palpable in each school day. Students engage in lively conversations throughout the day among themselves as well as with teachers, and often use the time before and after school to socialize with each other rather than be on their phones.
This moderate approach makes sense in light of what we know about the effects of smartphone use on teenagers and the concerns that have been raised about technology’s effects on children in general. A well-known article published in The Atlantic reported on a number of studies on these effects. Of particular note was a striking survey conducted amongst teens by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that found, without exception, that all screen activities are linked to less happiness, while nonscreen activities are linked to more.1
While a cell phone-free environment may seem countercultural in today's social media-drenched environment, it is well worth the effort. Not only does this promote burgeoning friendships, it also helps students engage in deep and genuine learning. Students are given the opportunity to use their time constructively, partnering with faculty as they engage in critical thinking. A policy that draws healthy boundaries around cell phone use supports this academic partnership and provides ample opportunities for students to develop face-to-face relationships with their peers and teachers.
Ultimately, schools should encourage students to see technology as a tool that is capable of helping them achieve many goods. Technology is a means to an end—the end being the discovery of truth and a greater engagement with reality. While students should be technologically savvy, the ﬁrst and foremost priority is to help them participate more fully in the truth, beauty and goodness of the world around them and the nuances found in face-to-face relationships.
Ms. Hadley is Dean of Students at Oakcrest School. She earned both her undergraduate and Masters of Education from the University of Notre Dame. She completed Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program. After teaching abroad in Spain for a year, she moved to Chicago where she taught at the Willows Academy for five years, serving as Dean of Students for two of those years. She has a great love and enthusiasm for working with young people and a deep love for her alma mater.
1. Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, September 2017 Issue, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/