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Blog: Friday, March 15th, 2019

Disrupting Digital Dependency

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Some of you will have heard that the Ontario government plans to ban cell phones in all schools. While I acknowledge the legitimate problem, I am not so sure that this is how you go about solving it. For those unaware of the problem allow me to share some more information:

  • 85% of teenagers have smartphone
  • Not counting time at school, teens spend an average of six hours per day in front of a screen (watching videos, social media, playing video games)
  • 35% of teenagers get fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night; 90% of them say the reason is because they are texting or playing video games

I will not inundate this post with more alarming statistics, but I hope parents and educators alike are concerned about the amount of time our kids spend in front of a screen (and not outside playing). One of my recent habits when out and about is to observe youth and how they interact with each other, their family and their devices. I am surprised how many times I see kids in the company of their friends and family but not really engaging with them. I am surprised about the times I see kids crossing the street attending to the device in their hands more than the traffic around them. I see more and more families in restaurants not talking to each other, but connecting to someone else not at the table. I hear complaints from teachers concerned about kids missing large chunks of instruction because they are surreptitiously using their devices. This is a big concern.

Having said that, we also know that technology does wonders for our society, including the world of learning. I only caution parents and educators to set boundaries for technology use for our kids and to do so with students. I strongly encourage us to have serious and meaningful conversations with youth about it and engage them in the solutions to the problems right before our eyes. There is a growing body of research about technology addiction, and the impact it can have on the developing brain, but we are not powerless to address it as a society.

One of the more friendly sources of advice comes from Janelle Burley Hoffman, author of iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming and Growing Up. She suggests that every parent should have a contract with their kids about technology use. I think every teacher should do the same. She actually has a contract template on her website for parents/teachers to adjust based on the age of the child and other family circumstances. Below is a copy of some possible content. Pay careful attention to # 4, #5, #11, #14 and #17.

Dear (Child),

Merry Christmas! You are now the proud owner of an iPhone. Hot Damn! You are a good & responsible 13 year-old boy and you deserve this gift. But with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations. Please read through the following contract. I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well-rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it. Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone ownership. I love you madly & look forward to sharing several million text messages with you in the days to come.

  1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?
  2. I will always know the password.
  3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad”. Not ever.
  4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30pm every school night & every weekend night at 9:00pm. It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30am. If you would not make a call to someone’s land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.
  5. It does not go to school with you. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It’s a life skill. *Half days, field trips and after school activities will require special consideration.
  6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money. It will happen, you should be prepared.
  7. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first or stay the hell out of the crossfire.
  8. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
  9. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room. Censor yourself.
  10. No porn. Search the web for information you would openly share with me. If you have a question about anything, ask a person – preferably me or your father.
  11. Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.
  12. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Don’t laugh. Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence. It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life. It is always a bad idea. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear – including a bad reputation. 
  13. Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.
  14. Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO – fear of missing out.
  15. Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.
  16. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.
  17. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without googling.
  18. You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You & I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.

It is my hope that you can agree to these terms. Most of the lessons listed here do not just apply to the iPhone, but to life. You are growing up in a fast and ever-changing world. It is exciting and enticing. Keep it simple every chance you get. Trust your powerful mind and giant heart above any machine. I love you. I hope you enjoy your awesome new iPhone.

Digital dependency might become the scourge of our time, but I think it is a grand and teachable opportunity for us to help our children become better and healthier citizens.

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.

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