My Year 8 son gets home, issues a barely perceptible ‘Hi mum’, hurls his ginormous school bag to the floor, yanks open the fridge to look for food, chucks off his school shoes (laces still tied), exchanges the top half of his uniform with a back-to-front tee-shirt and, in this single adolescence dance, somehow manages to take a gulp of water from the kitchen tap.
All the while, he’s maneuvering his iPad from hand to hand, couch to chair to kitchen table, where he does his homework, on, yes, you guessed it, the iPad.
About half an hour later he moves with the clumsy stealth of a labrador to his room, where the iPad proceeds to function as a virtual mall. He plays games, chats with friends, shares 10-most lists, makes videos of himself narrating games and browses PewDiePie on YouTube.
What an intrepid and compact little traveller the ipad is: it’s on the train to school, it’s in the classroom, it’s in the schoolyard and then it’s back on the bus at the end of the day. The ipad may look like an innovative teaching tool, a very ‘moving forward’ education initiative, but the thing comes home every night after school for a sleepover as well!
Research is surfacing the fast increasing use of the personal device across the private and public spectrum, (except maybe in non-mainstream schools or certain curriculum streams - I don’t like the word ‘mainstream', it’s very us and them, but you know what I mean) indicates that the learning and teaching efficacies of such technologies are dubious at best.
Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I procrastinated writing this column and watched the final season of The Good Wife on my laptop instead.
But I remain unconvinced that students do any better at school or function any better all-round, with an iPad at hand. And I’m a teacher and a parent.
These days, when I ask kids to open their books at the start of a class, they open their iPads instead. These days, a landscape of small silver squares unfurls before me with students’ heads bowed over their screens in homage.
Having conducted exhaustive anecdotal research with other parents - who all feel they are failing somehow because they can't control their kids’ screen use adequately - we all agree the situation's getting crazy.
Someone has suggested I put my son on a ‘technology fast’ because apparently it reverses much of the physiological dysfunction produced by daily screen time. It’s probably too late for me to go cold turkey but his frontal lobes aren’t even switched on yet. But how can my son go on a fast when he has to go to school where his drug of choice is mandatory?
It's not just kids. Mamamia staff member Jessie Stephens was so addicted to her phone, she gave it up for one week. Post continues after video.
In Reset Your Child’s Brain, American psychiatrist Victoria L. Dunkley explores six major effects of screen-time on the developing nervous system:
1. Disrupts sleep and desynchronizes the body clock. (Check.)
2. Desensitizes the brain’s reward system. (Seems about right.)
3. Produces a light-at-night. (Check.)
4. Induces stress reactions. (Absolutely. In the parent even more so.)
5. Overloads the sensory system, fractures attention and depletes mental reserves. (Um…God!)
6. Reduces physical activity levels and exposure to “green time.” (No comment.)
And this, from Australian adolescent psychologist Andrew Fuller’ s from his book, Tricky Teens:
Addicts crave things. A computer-addicted teen when denied total access will throw every trick in the book at you. It will take some hard headed parenting for teens to turn off their digital identity and turn on themselves instead. Don’t expect much change in a month and expect no gratitude.
What did I do when I was fourteen that got my mum so exasperated she’d say things like: Go outside and play with the hose. And if you continue to watch so much junk on T.V. or talk on the phone to friends you’ve spent the whole day with at school already, you’ll end up with square eyes and a dummy who’ll never be able to get a decent job later in life.
Are things harder for adolescents these days? Is their world more distracting, complex, and spirit sucking than mine was in the 70s? Yes.
One of my son’ teachers recently emailed me:
"To concentrate more in class, I would suggest that he put his iPad on my desk so that he won’t be tempted to use it."
If iPads were not such an embedded part of the school’s culture, he would not have to put anything on his teacher’s desk except from maybe an apple.
Apparently in one of those Scandinavian countries whose education system we wish we had because it’s more equitable, the salaries higher and the teachers more respected and the teacher graduates are more high achieving, they are pulling students’ personal devices out of the classroom.
I don’t know… I don’t have the answers…I can’t finish this column right now. I’ll get back to it as soon as I update my Facebook status from single to currently in a hyper-stimulating relationship with my Smart Phone.
This piece was first published on ABC Radio National's Life Matters program.