'If the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov were alive today, what would he say about smartphones? He might not think of them as phones at all, but instead as remarkable tools for understanding how technology can manipulate our brains.' - Doucleff & Aubrey, NPR Morning Edition
In the mid-'90s I discovered social media during the 6 Weeks. Although far from as long in duration as our Colorado summer break, the prospect of over a month without school was both exciting and daunting. Lazy mornings in bed lead to late nights filling time listening to local radio and a fascination with Alan Robson's NightOwls (nightly from 10pm-2am).
Robson's show was eclectic; live seances, card readers, and fortune tellers were followed by politicians, comic interventions, musical performances and listener calls. I felt, at once, as part of community of curious minds. In those days there weren't many folk using fast internet or, for that matter, internet at all so we relied heavily upon the mischievous host receiving telephone calls of those inclined to partake and supplementary readings of listener mail. One particular summer comes to mind because of our eagerness, or at least I recall it was a eagerness of others, to hear about the adventures of Doris the octogenarian from South Shields and her pet tortoise "Gilbert". This was my social media as quaint as it might now look.
Quite the difference looking at today's youth. In August 2015 when I first arrived at ISDenver I was immediately struck by the paucity of smartphones. It was probably so striking because my previous place of work had been a G6-12 environment yet nevertheless I was still impressed by the extent to which our young people were enjoying their youth - our cafeteria and lunch tables, for example, remain a place where students maintain eye-contact and engage in conversation with one another. To this day, I am delighted that our campus is a smartphone free place between the hours of 08.30 and 15.30. But, nearly three years later, I can sense the inevitability of gradualness. Personal smartphones remain in the possession of a minority of our MYP students, but we are probably closer to 50:50 point than in the past. There are lots of good reasons for this, not least the increased number of after school activities with different finishing times.
With the creeping presence of the handheld device comes, at least to a small degree, creeping anxiety about the social consequences of these devices. This jumped into my *social media news feed* this morning after a friend of mine in Germany shared an article about 'Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids' from an expert by the name of Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley. In my position, and as a parent, I couldn't help but click on the link and read away. Although at this stage it feeds by confirmation bias, I cannot help but be concerned by some of the findings.
Of course, Social Media is accessible from a multitude of devices and SmartPhones need not be the only means by which children access the internet. This stated, there is overwhelming evidence that our middle schoolers (c. 88% of 13 year olds according to Pew Research Center) primarily use a phone to access the internet. Their size, portable nature, and single person use nature mean that they are preferred method for our youth. These design variables, coupled with emerging evidence that smartphones are intentionally "addictive" are concerning to say the least particularly as the lengthy summer break emerges.
As an educator, I recognise that I am not your child(ren)'s parent. Each of you has a number of points to consider. That said, it would be foolish not to accept that conduct on and via social media can permeate a school environment. The friendships, interactions, conversations, and conduct of children and their peers online reaches the classroom and ineluctably influences subsequent interactions. All of us - at home, at school, or coaching soccer must become savvy to this burgeoning quasi-public sphere and communicate to children in our care expectations as to civility, decency and decorum.
I anticipate that this isn't the end of my thoughts on this subject matter. And I recognise that we, as providers of one-to-one devices have a role to play in ensuring the online practice of our children remains appropriate.