Are you nomophobic?
Schools, parents need to help kids set boundaries when it comes to smartphones
The majority of youth possess an iphone, ipad, Android or some piece of smart technology. With school going back into session, parents and guardians need to help navigate the often murky waters around the use of those back pocket devices in an educational setting.
The Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board policy “Use of Mobile Communications Technology Devices” was revised in April of 2016, and outlines how schools in the board are expected to govern the device usage. Essentially, mobile devices are not allowed to be used in schools unless they are being used with permission from and under supervision by staff/administration for an educational purpose. Provincially, policy is being developed in an attempt to embrace educational opportunities that smartphones provide while ensuring that they also are providing the education and structure necessary to avoid some of the harm that can come from the misuse of devices.
Let’s assume, for now, that during structured class time, school staff and policy makers are doing their best to help students embrace the vast wealth of knowledge contained in the devices while educating them about how to avoid misinformation and the underbelly of the cyber world. If we can do that, we can begin to focus on one important piece of the giant puzzle - how parents/ guardians can deliver clear messages around boundaries and expectations for cell phone use outside of those structured times. That is, during free time at school - recess, lunch, before and after school and during class changes.
To be clear, youth need help with connectivity boundaries, especially as it relates to social media. Nomophobia (fear of being without a phone – no mobile phobia) is being addressed and studied by experts (the University of Iowa has some interesting work if you want to google it!). Mediasmarts (a Canadian online not-for-profit organization that studies digital and media literacy), notes in their 2013 study (soon to be updated) that one-third of youth sleep with their phones in case they get a message or a call. Interestingly, 40% of girls and 31% of boys from the same study, worry that they’re spending too much time online on their phones. We need to help our youth manage some of those phone-induced fears of being disconnected and of missing out.
Commonly, students will say they “need” a phone so they’re reachable in case of emergencies at home. The idea needs to be debunked. School staff have easy and immediate access to every student. If information about an emergency needs to be relayed, it is best if that message is delivered by a caring adult, face to face. No one wants a student to receive a text message about an emergency while sitting in the middle of a physics class, at a cafeteria table or otherwise. Make it clear to youth in your home that while in school, they need not worry about missing an important message from you. It will be delivered – just not via their personal electronic device.
Similarly, It is beneficial to discuss the face to face interactions youth have with their peers at school, and the value of that. Youth do spend a large amount of time building friendships online, and telling them to turn off their devices doesn’t need to undermine the importance they place on their online lives, but turning them off sometimes does help them develop the skills to foster “old school” relationships in person. Instead of allowing the fear of missing a message to rule their world, encourage them to leave messages for later, and focus on what’s in front of them. This message is best delivered when adults send the same message with their own cell phone use (the old "practice what you preach" adage).
As policies are written and classrooms adjust to ever-changing. ever-present technologies that kids bring to the schools, these are baby steps in helping youth navigate the world of technology, but just like the first day of school, well begun is more than half the battle!