We saw another round of alarming headlines last week decreeing the downfall of our current crop of teenagers due to their addiction to mobile technology. These headlines were prompted by a new report from Common Sense Media about technology addiction and teenagers. The report, Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy and Finding Balance, was all over the news with countless headlines like Smartphone Addiction Rampant and Half of All Teenagers Are Addicted to Their Smartphones. While the headlines are accurate, they do not tell the entire story.
These negative headlines are great if they are click-bait intended to get adults reading beyond the bad news and raise awareness about how we can constructively deal with concerns about technology-use and teens. Unfortunately, the general theme coming from the media reports over the past few years has been to sound alarms and not to focus on a more modern perspective and all of the possibilities that go along with it. Thankfully, Common Sense Media provides a balanced approach to this conversation in the report.
However, schools also need to step forward and be part of the movement to let families know that all screen time is not created equal. As school leaders strive to add more instructional technology resources to their classrooms, they also must ensure that parents are kept in the loop about what their students are doing with digital devices to support their learning. We must be clear that our goal is to choose the best instructional resources that fit the needs of the learner at a given moment. Sometimes the right choice may be a digital resource and sometimes it will not. More importantly, we need to talk about when and why certain digital resources are appropriate. We also need to encourage adults to do the same thing regarding the choices they make surrounding the use of technology for their children and themselves.
Despite the fact that it did not make the headlines, a quick look below at some of the research from the Common Sense Media study shows that the problems surrounding the constructive use of technology are just as significant for parents as they are for students. Then again, these stories are being written by adults. I wonder if the headlines would be different if thet were written in a student publication...
The bottom line is the following statement from the report:
"Embracing a balanced approach to media and technology, and supporting adult role-modeling, is recommended to prevent problematic media use."
For school leaders, this starts with us. Let's foster open and honest conversations about the struggles everyone in our school community is having keeping technology in its proper place. Let's share strategies that are working for families who are finding success staying connected to the world both digitally and in-person. It is clear that there is a role for us in this conversation if we are willing to take it. So let's look at the conclusion of the report and commit to discussing the following two recommendations as a starting point:
- Talk About It - Connect with your kids and support learning by talking about what they're seeing, reading, and playing. Encourage kids to question and consider media messages to better understand the role media plays in their own lives.
- Walk the Walk - Lead by example by putting your own devices away while driving, at mealtimes, and during family time. Parent role-modeling shows kids the behavior and values you want in your home. Kids will be more open and willing participants when the house rules apply to you, too.