The following blog post, by Megan Hanafin, was created in collaboration with TeachPlus.
I drove down the end of my street a few weeks ago, and I looked ahead to see a bunch of lanky, awkward middle school students waiting for their bus. As I slowly got closer and closer to the group of students, I began reminiscing on my own bus stop experience. The merger of the bus stop brought so many different kids together who wouldn’t always mix by choice, so it was always a time that was a bit uncomfortable for me growing up, particularly because I was forced to congregate with one particular kid who would be legally classified as a bully in today’s world. Although he never bullied me specifically, I remember the brutal uncomfortable moments in which all of us at the bus stop had to navigate those cruel words often directed at the younger kid who didn’t quite fit in or know how to defend himself.
As I continued to think about those tense moments and my extremely awkward bangs that defined my middle school hairstyle, I had to pause at the end of the road when the view I saw was extremely different than what I remember from my childhood. As I paused and stared at the kids, the gawky look of the middle schoolers still existed, yet the bus stop was SILENT. Every single kid was staring at a phone.
As I turned onto the main road, I began to question my own connection to reality…am I officially old!? Am I out of touch with the youth that I teach every day!? How could it be that the bus stop has transformed into another time for our kids to turn into screen time zombies? Although those times at the bus stop were difficult for me, I look back and realize how necessary they were for me to strengthen my interpersonal skills. I was forced to interact with students that I did not share common values with, and as a group we were forced to work together to let the bully know that what he was doing was not cool, without the support of an adult to mediate. Not only did we have to maneuver difficult conversations, but there were also days where you did find commonalities with kids that you wouldn’t have spoken to otherwise, and maybe even realize that the bully actually had some of his own problems going on, and he was a work in progress, too.
Sadly, the bus stop isn’t the only place that we are depriving children the opportunity to develop crucial social skills. If you look across a restaurant, you often see families that are not interacting with each other yet interacting individually with their phones. If you glance over to the car next to you at the red light, you often see the bright lights glowing on the faces of those in the back seat. As we begin to accept and assimilate to technology being a staple in our day to day lives, it is important for us as parents, teachers, and really anyone that wants to interact with anything other than robots, to recognize that this is not the way it HAS to be. There is room for both human connection, and technology, if we demand a balance.
I urge teachers to take ownership of the use of technology in your classroom. We know that too much screen time is not good for kids, yet we often blindly appoint students endless assignments without much thought. It is important that we use technology when necessary, and not to replace face to face interactions of students and teachers working together in a classroom community. In the wake of common core standards and state testing, it’s easy for us to forget that the community we create in our classroom should model how we want our kids to act when they are out in the world. Technology may make our lives as teachers easier, but we may be sacrificing crucial social emotional learning time as a result.
Before incorporating different types of technology in my classroom, I ask myself
- Who profits? Are there outside companies that benefit from the use of this product?
- Is this the best way for a student to learn a new skill, or the easiest for me?
- Am I planning to review the work completed on technology, and use it to drive targeted instruction?
- Did the use of this technology replace an important face to face interaction or time for a group discussion?
I ask parents to set limits with their children. It is okay for your children to feel bored on a long car ride, they WILL survive. Not only will they survive, but they may learn about the role of patience in their lives, and it’s a great way to trap your middle school child into having a conversation with you when they probably spend a great deal of time avoiding you! By putting limits on technology, you are providing your child the opportunity to learn important skills that they will need to navigate this very complicated world. Kids need time to practice and develop interpersonal skills just as much as they need to learn other academic skills, even when it makes them feel uneasy. I highly recommend checking out the Family Use Media Plan to build guidelines for your family that make screen time play a positive role in your day to day lives.
There is no stage more uncomfortable than that of a middle schooler (especially if you saw my bangs..might I add I also had BRACES) but there’s no better time to grow the important life skills of listening and learning from others than when we are young. It’s easy for kids to hide behind their screens and avoid these practice opportunities, but at what cost?