The Western Australian Governments decision to ban smartphone use in schools is now in its 5th week and appears to have been accepted by most students. Here are 5 reasons why I believe its a positive step in helping children manage their daily digital intake.
1. Young minds need a break
According to research by Common Sense Media, Teens between the age of 13-17 spend on average 9 hours a day connected to the internet. Children aged 8-12 spend about to about six hours a day online. Take 9 hours a day online over a 7 day week equals 63 hours a week, more than a full time job! It is not really surprising that many students struggle to manage their school work let alone their homework with so much information passing through their mind.
Young minds need a break from the information overload. Adolescents brains are still developing and are not equipped to deal with the amount of information they receive everyday. Its simply overwhelming for them and increases the risk of them suffering from anxiety related issues. In short they need a break if their minds are to engage in learning at school.
2. Reduce the Dopamine Hit
The intense emotional reactions of our virtual worlds release dopamine into our system. This is the feel good chemical we release when we like something. The brain remembers the feel good factor and reminds us to try the activity again. As we follow the pleasure stimuli we gradually become hooked into cycle of repetition. For most of us it’s not a problem but for some it can have a negative impact on their lives.
For the young it is so much harder to find the discipline to control your habits as the brain is still developing and the frontal lobe (the part of the brain where we make decisions) is still not fully developed. It should be noted that most addicts suffer from this type of reaction.
Having a break from their phone during school will not remove the problem entirely but it will help to break up the phone habit for a few hours and give the mind a rest.
3. Too much screen time over stimulates the mind
Even before you get to addiction levels children can become overstimulated and hyper-aroused as the central nervous system gets overloaded with the constant stimulation of screen time. This can cause the brain to be in a state of chronic stress creating a host of mental health, learning, and behavioural disorders.
Current research has found links between ADHD and excessive screen time. Internet addiction can increase/aggravate ADHD symptoms. However research is still not certain whether ADHD drives the internet addiction of vice versa. What we do know is that screen time before bed can disrupt your sleep — and lack of sleep will make ADHD symptoms worse.
Extensive daily use of electronic devices will continue to overstimulate the brain and make this problem worse. Time for break!
4. Programmed to distract
Phones in classrooms are a major distraction. A recent survey in the US showed 80% of the students questioned agreed phones distracted them from learning.
It takes on average 66 days to form a new habit. Driven by the pleasure of the dopamine release, the developing brain of the teenager finds it difficult to resist the urge to check the phone. Maybe the FOMO factor adds to the urge, but the fact remains that very soon the constant checking becomes a habit and a new neural pathway is hardwired into the brain. When this happens we check our phone in autopilot, no conscious thought.
Statistics show that it takes us 23 minutes to return to the task we were doing after checking our email (Gloria Mark Department of Informatics University of California). If a student does this 4 times an hour then its very likely that no work has been completed during the lesson. This may seem extreme but research shows we check our phones on average every 12 minutes. Note my example does not include social media checks or messaging services, these can cause further disruption to the learning environment.
Free from distractions students become more engaged, concentration improves and this in turn improves their social connections in class.
5. It helps to send out a message
Its a message that needs to get out into the local community “excessive screen can be harmful to your children’s mental health. School is one of the main internet connection points for children with approximately 64% of a teenagers using the school network to connect to the internet. BYOD has fuelled that connection and schools now have to take action to reduce this connection time.
There is the argument that if we ban phones from schools, we will be unable to teach students how to use them safely. This is simply not true, schools teach students about safe sex but don’t let them practice it at break-time. Students can quite safely lean about how to communicate online and build collaborative working partnerships using a school laptop or tablet.
The only students who require a phone are those who have medical reasons, such as diabetes. If parents want to contact their child they can do so through the school admin.
The message should be clear, there is a problem with excessive screen time. Whilst medical research is still unclear as to how we are affected and what the negative consequences of that impact will be, there can be no doubt that it is having an impact on the health of our younger generation.
Banning phones from schools will hopefully reinforce this message and help young minds develop a little calm in their lives.