Currently there is a musical being written about the life of Roy Rogers and one of the early songs has a line:
“Everybody wants to know the truth, but nobody wants to hear it.”
We know the truth: our kids are hurting and being always connected plays no small part in that (see references at bottom). They face more pressure to be perfect, more temptation to be unhealthy, more opportunities to be exposed than any generation before them.
It would be inaccurate to say that technology in general is causing mental health problems for kids, but it would be irresponsible to say that access to social media and 24/7 news isn’t a catalyst.
This letter is a call to action from our schools to your homes because we believe changes are required.
How did we get here?
It is hard to believe that the iPhone is just over a decade old. In that time, smartphones have gone from a novelty and luxury item to something that most teens feel that they are entitled to have. (Can you imagine expecting your parents to give you a $1,000 device that also has a monthly charge?) Initially educators had concerns about how distracting cell phones could be in classrooms and many schools banned them. That was a fear-based decision because we, the adults, didn’t understand the devices. As we all became more comfortable with these devices and we saw the potential for educational benefits, we began to relax rules and search for ways to integrate them into the learning experience.
Unfortunately, we didn’t fully account for the teen brain. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, adolescents are more likely to act on impulse and less likely to think before they act or pause to consider the consequences of their actions based on the stage of brain development they are in.
This means that students are less likely to be able to tune out the constant barrage of social media notifications or say “no” to the next game of Fortnite and set appropriate boundaries to differentiate work and play time. If we are being honest, adults can’t do it either so why would we expect children to do so?
As a district we are not limiting access to personal technology from a place of fear because we don’t understand it, but from a place of understanding because we do understand it.
What action is Bexley Schools taking?
Starting in August 2019, students will not be permitted to bring personal electronic devices (phones, smartwatches, headphones, etc.) into classrooms unless there is a documented accommodation for a student. Students need an excuse to disconnect and we are that excuse.
These expectations will be communicated with students during the first week of school during our annual handbook reviews and be reiterated through the school year.
As part of the Bexley Blueprint and district technology plan, the district is increasing the number of district owned devices next year, in particular laptops and tablets (This is being accomplished through the use of permanent improvement funds - not operating dollars). This increase in devices will positively impact our ability to integrate technology for learning and reduce reliance on "bring your own device", which also reduces opportunity gaps for students who may not have a device to bring to school. Bexley Education Foundation, through both impact and classroom grants, continues to support innovative learning spaces and practices in the district - including their most recent grant that will allow high school students without access at home to check out devices for school use.
What have our students said?
In April 2019, nationally recognized internet safety speaker Jesse Weinberger spoke to all students in grade 6-10 during grade level assemblies and hosted a parent night. During these assemblies, she collected anonymous data about student use of devices and social media. Full survey results are available at https://bex.fyi/social
- 99% of our 6-10th graders own a smartphone.
- 67% of our students admitted to sometimes having “trouble putting down their device.
- 97% of our students reported that they have unrestricted access to YouTube at home.
- 70% of students reported that their parents do not set limits for their device usage.
- 85% of our students said they were “made uncomfortable or scared by online content.”
- Our younger students are participating in more streaming services than older students (up to 70% in 6th grade). Many of these platforms are the most dangerous for children and share the most personally identifiable information.
- 57% of our students said they wished social media had never been invented.