Teens, Texting and Addiction to Technology at School & Home

I enjoy people watching.  I get many of the ideas for articles and talks from observing people of all ages.  Recently, I sat in the back of a room filled with learners and observed their behavior. Nearly all of them were looking at their technology.  A woman was in front of the room trying to teach and everyone had their heads down.  They were tap, tap, tapping on smartphones, tablets and laptops.  She kept talking and they kept tapping.   The learners weren’t teens.  They were adults. I was sitting in the back of a session for educators at a professional conference. Some were taking notes.  Others were obviously texting.  A number of people were playing digital games.  I wondered how many of these teachers tell their teenage students that they cannot use their technology during class.  I kept looking around and thinking, “How ironic!”

I attended a religious service recently.  I watched several adults check their texts when their phones vibrated.  I was pretty sure that someone across the aisle was posting a status on social media.

I remember a time before all of this technology.  When I was a student, we didn’t have cell phones or laptops or tablets.  There was no Facebook or Instagram for collecting “likes.”  We actually had to comment on paper or aloud to tell the world our stories and I did.  My head was down, too.   I was writing and passing notes to my friends.  I doodled.  I whispered to friends.  I was a good student in honors classes but I wasn’t always as quiet or attentive as my teachers would have liked. 

Today, I recognize that I am very technology dependent.  I cannot leave home without my cell phone.  I sat at my desk at work today using my desktop computer to answer email and my tablet to note appointments on my calendar that syncs with my smartphone. 

As a parent and a teacher, I have struggled with my expectations of others and technology.  It is hard to know where to draw boundaries and if those boundaries are helpful or if they are more distracting than the technology itself.  I have stood in a room full of teens and said, “No technology.”  It makes them anxious.  They are used to immediate gratification.  When someone needs to tell them something, it happens immediately and they can respond immediately.  Technology has changed our perception of time and our ability to wait.

I experimented with recognizing that texting is our teen’s way of passing notes today.  I told them that they can use their technology as long as they are paying attention and participating.  They were happy and well behaved but I had to question how much they were absorbing.  I know that multi-tasking is a myth.  I know about brain development and the human brain can only focus on one thing at a time.

I realized that there had to be a happy medium between “your technology is banned so now we will pause while your heart palpitates” and “text as much as you like because I know it’s your doodling – I doodled – oh wait, I paid minimal attention while I doodled.”

It took a while but I think I found a balance.  It wasn’t any more difficult than finding balance in all of the other issues that parents and teachers face.  It was about role modeling, communicating and negotiating.  I respect my students need to ensure that the White House hasn’t texted them.  I allow time to use technology just before class, a break between and when they are done with a task ahead of everyone else.  I check my technology then, too.  I explain to them that I want to have discussions during which we look at each other so we will all put the technology away at the same time.  I give them a two minute warning so they can play that last move on the game.  Then, I say, “OK.  I’m putting mine away.  You, too.”  And they do.

I do the same at home.  If want to have dinner with my family without smartphones, I tell them and I have to put mine away, too.  Often, I don’t put mine away.  I don’t ask anyone else to put theirs away when I do not.  There have been times when I have been texting and my boys have asked me to stop so we can talk.  They have learned a boundary.  When we want someone’s undivided attention, we have to ask for it.  We have to communicate our needs and have them mutually respected.

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