I started teaching in 2005 when I was 22 years old and barely older than some of my students. It was a different world then, Gwen Stefani’s Holla Back, Girl was at the top of the charts, we all still had flip phones, you specially had to pay for a plan if you wanted unlimited text messages, Facebook was still exclusive to college students, but everyone was on Myspace. I believe that I was on the sidelines to this technological revolution that has occurred over the past decade or two as I watched how high school students changed with the changing technology.
I have this distinct memory from my first year of teaching. I had as student come in to my classroom with a brand-new T-Mobile Sidekick and she said to me, “Look, Miss Brubaker, I can get on Myspace from my phone!” The other students were enthralled with the idea, and I was admittedly quite impressed as well, and then when the bell rang everyone put away their phones and we went on with class as usual. There are two things that come up for me around this memory-1. Most teachers today would tell you that it takes a lot more effort than I had to give that day for kids to put their phones away and engage in class and 2. This moment, and ones like this that happened all over the world, was pivotal in creating this wave of humans who are so connected we are disconnected.
Since that day, a lot has changed in terms of technology and social media. Myspace is long gone as a social media norm and Facebook is “for old people” according to most of my teenage clients. I don’t generally go a day without talking about how impactful “we lost our streak” or “she slid up” or “then, she put it on her story” can be for an adolescent who is learning to navigate relationships. Technology and social media are a very real part of our lives-even to the point where it is more common for a teenager to share their social media handle than it is for them to share their phone number with a person they have met. So much of our interactions are happening online these days and I fear that it is going to cause many more long-term problems than we are prepared to recognize.
It is an innate human need to feel as though we are loved and belong. In the adolescent stage, it is developmentally appropriate for people to want to separate from their parents and attach to the broader tribe of their peers. This is where I start to get nervous because it seems as though the connections with the broader tribe of their peers are only being made in a digital way. This type of connection does not fully satiate the need we have to feel as though we are loved and belong. It is not only a problem of the connection not feeling authentic, it also is problem of missing all the nuances that face to face communication can offer.
So, what do we do here? Take away cell phones? Abolish social media? Psssh, that is not going to happen. What we need to do, however, is help kids learn how to use their technology with moderation. Do not give full access to internet all of the time. Require kids to turn in their cell phones at a certain time each night and do not give them back until a certain time in the morning. Talk to kids about how to make authentic connections and why it is important to do so. And, perhaps the most important thing we can do, be and example. I know that I am just as guilty as other adults of spending way to much time on our phones. Do the same things that we are expecting our kids to do. Put away your phone at dinner, or during important conversations (and I don’t mean just set it to the side where you can still see it). Get yourself and your family members alarm clocks to use to wake yourself up in the morning. Leave your phone put away when you are driving. When you sit down to watch a show, watch one episode at a time instead of 7.
The debate about technology will almost certainly continue for years to come. Technology has provided us with a lot of wonderful opportunities to advance our world. I also think that the intentions with these devices and social media platforms were to connect us. Let’s try and let it supplement our communication and connection rather than replace it altogether.