The Technology Epidemic

Lisa Moberg Current Affairs, Education, Social Issues, Web/Tech

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This morning an interesting story was reported by the “Today” show, describing how the fast food restaurant “McDonalds” is testing phone lockers to encourage conversation at the table.  The video clip showed the joy and wonder of a small child as they opened and closed the little locker door, encapturing their guardian’s device.  A viewer commented on social media: “OMG I’m so in love with this idea.  I hope more places get the idea and install them…”  I honestly stopped and pinched myself to see if I was still asleep and having a horrific nightmare- is society truly at this point that we need to *lock* our phones away to hold ourselves accountable to be social during meals?  And then I thought of my middle schoolers and their consistently adverse reaction to adults on their phones, and I thought, “yes, it’s time.”  Throughout the years of the fast-paced infusion of technology in society, I have seen its negative impact in the social element of the school setting.

Attention Starvation

At the start of this academic year, my son was really excited to enter his next chapter in life, high school.  He enjoys challenges and was intrigued by the variety of classes to choose from to inspire his thinking and further his education.  After the first day of school, I debriefed with him about his first day as a freshman.  I asked, “How was your first day of school?”  I was anticipating his excited description of new teachers, classes, and friends.  Instead, dejection.  He replied with, “Really, it was disappointing.  We just use computers to teach us in Math and English.  Why do we even have teachers?”  He went on to explain that the school district had adopted a new curriculum, which has online modules to model, guide, and administer the mastery of math and english concepts.

I called a few friends to see what their kids had reported- literally the same thing.  How disheartening to hear the disappointment of these kids who want a human being as a teacher, not a computer!  They want to see a person model a math equation or element of literature, not listening to it via technology.  Students crave a relationship with their teachers to be their guides in learning.

Remedy: If teachers use a lot of technology to teach (which is great!), they need to remember to embed relationship-building in small group lessons to invest in the children’s need for attention and provide equitable education.

Social Immaturity

Have you seen intermediate and middle school children at recess lately?  Especially if the school doesn’t allow handheld devices to come outside with them?  These children literally look lost.  I have observed these two results in frequent referrals for behavior:

  1. The children try to play with the playground equipment, but don’t know any games to play or how to play fairly, resulting in physical fighting.
  2. The children stand around awkwardly (typical of any tween) and try to have conversations, but they frequently become negative and/or too mature, resulting in verbal fighting.

But it’s really not about the actions at recess, but the lack of reaction I observe.  It’s not just that they don’t know how to play, but children don’t know how to deal with negative situations.  When they hear and/or perceive a negative comment or action, the children don’t know how to address the issue with a courageous conversation.

Looking at data of technology use amongst children (see below), you can see who has become the friend of children.  They make friends through social media apps, but children don’t have the interpersonal skills of physically hanging out with peers.  And if they do get together in person, what do children do?  You fill in the blank: ____________.

In addition, peer mediation skills have been pushed away to the backburner of character education, and character education lessons have been decreased in the classroom.  Yet what provokes the violence that plagues modern-day schools?  We need to get back to the basics and teach students how to be friends, throughout the good and bad times.

Remedy: Our grade level is going to pilot a new program that we designed, teaching children how to be friends.  We are going to group students according to their social needs, and teach them about tolerance, patience, kindness, self-control, etc. through video clips and discussion questions.  

Lack of Moderation

My two different blocks of sixth graders were involved in a fun competition throughout first quarter- whoever read the most amount of books as a class would win “Technology Day.”  The reward, “Technology Day,” was voted by the students (I was hoping for “Doughnut Day,” just sayin’).  The winning class read 73 books to receive this treat.  They were allowed to bring in their own handheld device to use the for the day, which fortunately was an early release day of school.

We actually had a lot of time outside for the Haiku poetry lesson, so they didn’t really get onto their technology until the last half of the block.  Usually I would have had some fun technology lessons for them to use their devices, but I was exhausted- it was the last day of the quarter- so I allowed them to go on anything fun and appropriate.  I figured it would be interesting to observe what they do with technology and how it impacts them as a person.

Once I said, “Okay, now you can get on your devices,” it was like a stampede.  Some students pulled out their phones, others were running to the Chromebook cart.  A few pulled out tablets.  They all played games, except a few girls who were posing for selfies (which I thought better of and stopped immediately).  All eyes were glued.  All ears were listening with earbuds that magically appeared from pockets.  Not one word was spoken.  These children who usually laugh and talk with each other were transfixed into another world.  Quite honestly, I didn’t like it!  It was discombobulating to be excluded so quickly.  When I gave them the 5-minute warning before transitioning to the next class, I was pretty much ignored.  When I told them to stop and put away their devices, it was like tearing someone away from a Vegas buffet.  They wanted more.

This classroom example just reminded me that we need to encourage moderation of technology with children.   They are so used to getting it in big gulps, and fast!  Children need to remember that there are other sources of fun and freedom out there.

Remedy: Encourage families to follow the 1 hour rule that pediatricians recommend- children should only be using hand-held devices or technology for 1 hour a day.  Give them a calendar of activities to do at home that doesn’t require technology.  It could even be their “homework” assignment, promoting quality family time away from screens.  

In Conclusion: Data that Speaks Volumes

  • Launch dates of favorite social media sites:
    • Facebook- 2004
    • Twitter- 2006
    • Instagram- 2010
    • Snapchat- 2011
  • 53% of children get a cell phone by age 6 (www.abc13.com)
  • In a recent study that included 894 children, 20% of 18-month-olds had daily average handheld device use of 28 minutes (www.aappublications.org, “Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children”)
  • Researchers have found that a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay is linked to a 30-minute increase in handheld screen time (www.aappublications.org, “Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children”)
  • In 2014, 5.83 million students (ages 6-21) utilized special education services; there were 5.67 students in 2011 (www.disabilityscoop.com, “Special Education Enrollment Rises”)

Lisa Moberg

El Mirage, AZ

Adventure is my middle name. Although I have never sought it out, it somehow finds me, especially in teaching!! These past 16 years of my teaching career have been an exciting voyage in education, stretched between two different states, three school districts, and six grade levels (Kindergarten - 5th grade). After teaching in Washington State for six years, I moved to Arizona and have taught at a Title 1 school in the West Valley for ten years.

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Comments 11

  1. Mike Vargas

    Lisa I love this article. It is so true.. I feel like we are living in the age that Orwell warned us about. I see kids every day -slaves to their phones. I had a kid a few years ago have his phone taken away in class, the kid literally had a panic attack and nearly passed out when denied his technology.. The problem is that bad. If you can imagine your phone as a portable slot machine, the technology is indeed one in the same. The manufacturers of cell phones actually research quite heavily what noises and cues will get most of your attention. That is scary but true. I don’t think people have any idea that they are slowly becoming ” matrix batteries” and there is no Nero in sight to be the one that’s going to save us from the machines….

  2. Yolanda Wheelington

    Thank you for this article. While I love technology, as a teacher I have to be very strict about students using technology as an end and not a means to an end. We constantly value the creator higher than the creation. Once they get a taste of this realization, I see them stepping back from technology as a supplement for the “real thing” (human interaction, thinking, and relationship). I am having to go this level with 1, 2 and 3rd grade students so I can only imagine what it’s like for older students that were consistently given technology as a first answer. With that said, we also look at technology as an expression of the genius of man. It is a part of our “job” to utilize and manipulate the resources provided to us and it is natural to transition to a better and more efficient tool. This is all technology is and man has been doing that since we started using rocks to count with. Look at the pyramids! I suggest that we continue to encourage students to use technology as a tool for improvement, not a source of intelligence.

  3. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    Great piece! I love the links you include at the end, disturbing as they are

    The idea that students are simply moving through online modules in their core classes at school is disturbing. There are so many creative and more interactive ways to use the tools we have!

    Thanks for this important reality check!

  4. Beth Maloney

    Excellent piece! I especially identify with your perspective about observing students at recess. I agree – it is disturbing! It is so far beyond the usual middle school awkwardness; it is a lack of real social skills. I love that your team in trying to enhance their social skills. That will serve them well in life!

  5. Jaime Festa-Daigle

    Technology for learning – I have so many mixed feelings. Although I love what Google classroom offers, I am troubled by how much time kids are spending in front of screens. This year, my daughter went to college and she said her biggest struggle was that everything was online. There was such a disconnect between lectures and labs and the online management system that housed her grades and work. Her email is still logged in to my home laptop and the number of email notifications she gets from classes is perplexing. To some degree, we do this to kids too. This Remind and that Facebook update and the Google alert. At what point do we disconnect?

  6. Eve Rifkin

    “If teachers use a lot of technology to teach (which is great!), they need to remember to embed relationship-building in small group lessons to invest in the children’s need for attention and provide equitable education.”

    You hit the nail on the head here, Lisa. Indeed! Some days I wish that all the technology would simply go away. But knowing that’s not realistic, I take solace in focusing my energy into relationship-building, hoping that it is, as you suggest, a remedy.

  7. Sandy Merz

    Screens are just so easy. I have a pretty heavy work load this year and although I start every morning saying to myself that I’m going to spend some after work time with some personal reading, day after day I get home and up streaming something from Netflix instead. I’m not sure how directly that’s relates to your post, other than I’m as weak as anyone when it comes to falling under the spell of the screen.

  8. Jess Ledbetter

    My school implemented a peer mediation program last year and had really terrific results! It empowered the kids to help each other and also allowed them to learn how to resolve conflicts through conversation. The program is continuing this year (obviously!) I’m super interested in the curriculum your team is developing. What a powerful way to identify a need and implement an idea that will benefit your students FOR LIFE! I think about screen time often with my 2 year old because the temptation is so great when she’s being fussy at dinner or I need a few minutes to do something. Every decision we make with kids makes a difference. And I keep thinking about how important it is for her to hear the conversations and engage with others–even if she’s grumpy and tired. It would be so wonderful if our society could start to recognize the unintended consequences of convenience. Our kids DO need undivided attention from adults to learn social skills and develop language. A screen just can’t replace that. Great post!

  9. loving562345

    Great experience we know from here and i think as a human we need to try to keep our fitness. for this we need maintain a routine which will be very effective for us.

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