My school has a no electronic use policy in the classroom; however, as the year progressed I noticed more and more students connected to technology in the lunchroom, in the hall, in the gym, and in the classroom. I understand that teachers can grow weary in asking students to put away their electronics and sometimes just give in to the inevitable. A friend of mine told me that her niece is so addicted to her cell phone that she has learned to text with her toes so that she does not get her phone taken away (wow!). And speaking of taking up cell phones and I-pods, our front office is constantly giving back electronic devices and getting blasted by parents about their students' phones being confiscated when they need to be able to reach their teen. By the way, have you ever tried to take up a cell phone from a student? I have and it is like taking a bottle of alcohol from a drunk or a drug from an addict. Believe it or not, there is a scientific term for cell phone addiction called nomophobia. In 2008, nomophobia was coined by British researchers as the anxiety one feels when he or she is without his or her cell phone. The danger of our technology addiction is that it inhibits our ability to wait and delay instant gratification.
Do Students Suffer from Nomophobia?
My Experience with Technology Addiction
I am walking by a math classroom where the teacher is teaching a lesson and I see the majority of the students on the back row texting, on social media, or listening to their I-pods. I stopped in my tracks and stared incredulously at the students who were totally unaware of my presence. In fact, it is April and the majority of them are seniors and to make matters worse they are not academic scholars by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I know I stood silently watching their activities for 2-3 minutes until one of them looked up with a sheepish grin.
I think I can give you some insight about this new phenomenon behind the need from technology by our teens.
What Does the Research Say?
So, its official...technology is rewiring our brains. In fact, Newsweek magazine warned America that being constantly connected to technology can create panic, depression, and psychosis (July 16, 2012). Our need for constant connection creates stress on our bodies and this stress is rewiring our brains. In his book, Digital Invasion, Dr. Archibald Hart wrote that being constantly connected is causing a major shift in our brain function. These shifts include increase of brain speed, loss of our capacity to contemplate, loss of the ability to problem solve, and inability to create meaningful relationships. Richard Stout, a California Family Psychotherapist, warns about cell phones and their use. He says that everyone has 24 hours in a day and if we choose to use the majority of that time in the electronic world then there will be problems in our everyday world.
Physical Changes to the Brain of Cell Phone Addicts
Problems that Emerge from Constant Digital Connection
One problem of constant connection is the idea of being able to handle tasks in our everyday world and keep up in our electronic world. Although it is a popular idea in education for students to multitask, neuroscientists say that the human brain is not structured for multitasking. In fact, Dr. Hart gives an illustration in his book about the negative impact of being a multitasker. If one applies to the Top Gun Naval Pilot program, the Navy gives these candidates a standard ability test. If the test indicates the person is a multitasker, the program will reject him or her. The Navy requires that its pilots complete tasks in sequential order rather than starting and working on several different tasks. According to Dr. Hart, the reason we multitask is mainly to overcome boredom.
Researchers have found that 9 out of 10 middle school students have a cell phones. With this large number of students being constantly wired together, it takes significant attention away from academics and can lead to sleep deprivation. Dr. Suzanne Phillips conducted a focus group of teens and found that the majority of teens slept with their cell phones. One of the reasons students gave for sleeping with their phones was that they often felt pressured by their friends to be available to talk even in the middle of the night. I can attest to this fact as I have often caught my own son up at 2 or 3 am talking to someone on the phone. Also, I have spoken to many students who tell me that they were exhausted from being up all night talking to a friend who was bored or having a problem. As teens need at least 9 hours of sleep per night, sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, loss of concentration and memory, anxiety, and even depression. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that internet addiction causes the brain to mimic the brains of drug addicts (Carnegie Melon University). In images of the brain, texting floods the pleasure center of the brain like a drug. When there is a negative text or a lack of text, the person needs to continue that behavior to receive that same pleasure. Due to the shrinkage of the brain tissue loneliness, depression, mood alteration, and a loss of connection to reality become evident (Web MD).
Teens Sleeping with Cell Phones
Impact on Relationships
Another negative impact of constant connection is the loss of relationships and the loss of empathy for other human beings. This loss of empathy for others has created negativity in the form of cyber bullying. About 1 in 10 teens participate in text blogging and out of those texts 1 in 5 teens are bullied. Text bullying has become more common than face to face bullying and can feel inescapable. In fact, text bullying can have long range impact such as resurfacing in the future causing mental anguish. If you have ever been involved in a situation with teens who have been the victim of gossip or bullying on social media or via a text message, it takes a lot your energy and causes the student to be anxious. Every year I go into the freshman classrooms and speak to students about the dangers of getting involved in cyber bullying and sexting. I speak about the consequences of being charged with distribution of child pornography or being rejected by a college or employer because of their "digital footprint". Many students are surprised by the seriousness of the penalty for these activities, but others just giggle and not take my warnings seriously.
What can counselors do to educate parents and students regarding cell phone addiction, the dangers of social media, cyber bullying, and sexting?
1. Educate parents and students about setting boundaries for technology use and the signs of technology addiction.
Signs can include:
- The need to respond immediately to a post or text.
- Constantly checking the phone even when it is not ringing or vibrating (phantom vibration).
- The student is unaware of his or her surroundings.
- The student feels anxious without his or her device or withdrawal.
- The student's grades are dropping due to time spent on his or her device(s).
2. Educate students and parents about cyber bullying and its impact on students.
A great resource is to download free lessons from Common Sense Media. In addiction, Common Sense Media has free resources to use in the classroom and to give out at parent nights.
Tips for Preventing Cyber Bullying:
- Teach kids to be empathetic.
- Help kids to understand the difference between cruel and funny.
- Educate kids on who to speak to if they experience or know someone who is experiencing cyber bullying.
- Teach kid's upstanding skills.
- Show kids that they have the power to stop the cycle.
Common Sense Media Kit for Educators (Grades 9-12)
Cyber Bullying Information for Parents
Resources for a Parent Education Workshops on Cyber Bullying
3. Educate parents and students on the definition of sexting and its legal consequences.
The FBI suggests that law enforcement and educators provide regular presentations regarding cyber safety and its consequences on students' future lives or digital footprint.
FBI Publication on Sexting
Sexting and Cyber Bullying Legal Consequences
Sexting and Relationships Lesson Plan
Project Safe Childhood
Internet Safety Resources for Educators
4. Educate students about how employers and colleges make decisions about them based on their digital footprint.
Tips for Parents and Students about Good Digital Citizenship
How Colleges Link at Students' Digital Footprint
High School Lessons on Students' Digital Footprint
Cell Phone Addiction
What Teachers can do about Students Texting at School
Pew Institute Cell Phone Study