“In July of 2018, the French government passed a law banning cell phones in schools. According to CNN, the law passed 62 votes to one.”
But is banning the use of cell phones, or any technology for that matter, really helpful to the problem at hand?
All children are now digital natives, meaning they’re growing up using technology so much that it’s in their DNA. But there’s also a major problem with this tech-heavy lifestyle: it has become nearly impossible for kids to ignore all of the alerts and notifications, the games and the apps, and all of the binge-worthy entertainment.
In fact, as Dr. Jim Taylor, author of Raising Generation Tech comments in a BCC article,
“There is a growing body of evidence — that is, yes, not fully validated and can be argued against — but pretty clear evidence that technology, social media, immediate access to the internet and smartphones are hurting kids’ ability to focus. We are fundamentally changing the way kids think and the way their brains develop.”
I know this from experience as a high school teacher, because this was my biggest classroom management challenge by far.
I reminded them constantly to take out their ear buds or close their laptops or stop scrolling on their cellphones and engage with the world around them. Then I would hear excuse after excuse about how technology was the reason they couldn’t finish their work or score high enough on an exam, when really the problem was their inability to learn without using technology.
But it’s not just about taking away the devices, because the mere presence of them is enough to consume students’ thoughts. Students will just become anxious thinking about the next opportunity they’ll get to check whatever device is banned.
So the challenge of raising the next generation goes beyond simply passing a law to prohibit cellphone or other tech devices from schools. Students need to learn the skills to control and self-regulate their own behaviors if we want them to be successful upon graduation.
Nir Eyal, instructor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, refers to this crucial skill as being “indistractable.”
“Becoming indistractable is the most important skill for the 21st century — and it’s one that many parents fail to teach their kids.”
And teachers are failing to teach this critical skill to their students.
In fact, I would argue that schools are making it worse for students.
The school day is designed to dictate to students when and where to be as well as what and how to learn. Teachers and administrators create school-wide policies that ban students from using cell phones and implement firewalls to block students from all “fun” content on the internet.
But all schools are doing by controlling student behavior and technology usage is taking away the ability to learn how to become indistractable.
And the opposite case is also true: many schools now use computers for every lesson so the distractions are right at their finger tips. Then teachers have to battle, as I did, to make sure that students are being productive and not wasting their time.
And this is why becoming indistractable is now the most important skill, because teachers won’t always be their to prod students to focus and complete their work.
And as Eyal highlights in his article,
“One thing is for certain: Technology is becoming more pervasive and persuasive. While it’s important our kids are aware that products are designed to be highly engaging, we also need to reinforce their belief in their own power to overcome distraction. It’s their responsibility — as well as their right — to use their time wisely.”
Students must learn the ability to manage all of the distractions and their overall technology consumption.
Devorah Heitner, author of the book Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, agrees with this sentiment. She advocates for a more direct approach with young people about technology and the need to learn how to control its presence in their lives.
So what can we teach our students to learn how to be indistractable?
1. Technology mindfulness
While technology is a great tool and has advanced our society on many levels, we’re very early in studying the effects that technology has on our emotional and physical lives. What we do already know is that it’s changing the way our brains function and even the way our bodies move (see text neck and text thumb).
Students need to learn how to overcome these negative effects by taking tech breaks. They should have blocks of time in the day when technology is not the solution so they can engage with others around them. They need to learn meditation techniques to de-stress and actively practice being present by focusing on the here and now.
2. The Myth of Multi-tasking
According to an article published in the Hechinger Report,
I witnessed this every day in the classroom, but found it very difficult to convey the importance of this to my students. We as humans cannot do multiple things at the same time. This means it’s critical to practice active focus and develop our ability to give our full and undivided attention to our work.
After all, focus and attention are skills that need to be honed and developed, much like any other skill learned in school. We need to be more intentional about calling this out as the learning goal, across grade levels and subjects. All teachers can help reinforce these skills in their classrooms.
3. Effective Time Management
When schools institute bans on technology and regulate the school day, it limits students’ own abilities to learn these skills for themselves.
Instead, let’s re-imagine the school day to better reflect the modern lifestyle of most adults. Technology has changed how we manage our time and students must learn this critical skill as well.
So students should practice managing their calendar, making their own to-do list, setting their own alerts and using technology as a tool to keep themselves organized.
They should have to schedule in mindfulness breaks and schedule time when technology won’t be used, so they learn to actively do this as part of their everyday lives. Then they will be able to do the same for themselves as adults, so they will be able to control their urges, focus more and manage their time more effectively.
While technology is a great tool it can also be a great distraction and this is something we must address with our children head on. Helping our youth become indistractable has to become the most important skill for both parents and teachers to help students succeed in the future.
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