Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Need For Cellphone Rehab

Imagine me as the ghost of your teen's college future. I have been teaching college students for almost 25 years, so I have a good longitudinal look at how college students have changed over this period, especially as it relates to technology. And I have seen enormous change. Students from years prior to cellphones and laptops were engaged, conversant, and curious. Now, many more students are passive and hard to engage.

I have students who come in to class with their laptops, explaining that note taking is more effective for them using their computer, I get that. So typing away they go. Often I see them laughing, when I am not saying anything funny. That's usually a good clue that something other than note taking is taking place. Hello facebook and twitter

Cellphone use is rampant, no matter how much I remind them as soon as they get into class to put their phones away. Sometimes it is blatant use right on their desktop. Other times I see surreptitious tapping on their lap. When I see it, I call them out on it. Last week, a group of my students were presenting data from a research study. No dry statistics here, but entertaining quotes from interviews undertaken for a project on early adulthood. My attention had been focused on the group of students, but I did a turn around to try to engage the class in a follow-up question, and saw almost the entire remaining seating students tapping away on their phones. I am not a person who goes to the angry place, but to the angry place I went. I was furious that they could be so rude to their own classmates, and told them how sad it made me feel that they lost out on hearing information that was interesting, and would be helpful to them in making sense of the the material we had been covering.

And finally, on Monday night, I went to a lecture at the college being given by a young man, Damian Eccles, who along with 2 other boys had been wrongly convicted of murder, and had lived on death row for the last 20 years. A year and half ago, these now 40 year old men had been released from prison when new evidence came out that made it abundantly clear they were innocent. This story has been well chronicled with a documentary on HBO, and other films as well.

It was a coup for the college to bring him to speak to the students. The auditorium was packed, and the spill-over crowd had to follow a live-stream in another location. That is where I was. Initially I was thrilled that so many students were in attendance. (it turns out many students were mandated by professors to attend) Anyway, a colleague and I were sitting in the back of the room that seated 50-60 of us. At one point, we looked at each other in disgust as we saw a sea of downed heads, peering into their cellphones rather than listening to this unbelievably compelling speaker. I was sad!

Here is my point. Your teens are addicted to their phones, their laptops, their IPADs, their Itouches. Are you????? If your goal for them is to get the best out of their lives, then it is up to you to set some limits on the amount time they are in contact with these devices. Because otherwise, when they get to those expensive colleges you will be sending them to, they will be too far gone in their addiction. Obviously the very motivated student is exempt from this criticism. But for the majority of students, class is not always their favorite place to be. I get that and work really hard to make my classes entertaining, fun, and good places to learn. But the allure of being in touch with their friends is hard to compete with,

So I implore you to talk about this addiction with your kids. Just like you wouldn't let them eat junk food all day, or play video games from sun up to sun down, you won't let them lose contact with living in the present. A two hour period of NO Phones should be part of every teens day. At least start there! Get them used to being separated from their beloved, all in the name of the sanity of their future college professors!!!

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