It seems as though teens are becoming conditioned to be “on call” through texting with cell phones. Some youth say they feel social pressure to answer each other’s text messages regardless of the time of day, and that’s causing problems at home and at school. Teachers are concerned about the impact of interruptions on learning, and school administrators are responding with policies on cell phone-use in schools. But how can the education system guide teens through confronting compulsion if students are conditioned to be “on-call”? Can kids find the self-control to plan time with their cell phones efficiently? Conditioned to Be on Call is a documentary that explores teens’ relationships with cell phones.
I traveled to London, England; Edinburgh, Scotland; Boston, M.A.; Ann Arbor, M.I.; Vancouver, B.C.; and Toronto, O.N. in search of some further insight and research into teens’ relationships with their cell phones and uncovered some fascinating discoveries.
Here is a sneak peak of the documentary. It is available for purchase by McNabb Connolly for educational and library distribution. For individual purchase of $24.00, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I also co-authored a report on how teens view their attachment to their mobile devices and what role that plays in their ability to focus attention. Conditioned To Be On Call report
Q and A on Teens and Texting
Teens are creating a social space to maintain friendships and to help forge their identities. Their social circles are shifting and they are using technology to navigate through this process. They are also building a space separate from adults where they have control as they strive for independence. This is a natural part of growing up.
Why are many teens tethered to their cell phones?
Teens who frequently text feel a compulsion to stay connected with their friends. That compulsion is driven by social pressure to interact. These teens are the ones who text their friends if they don’t answer back right away sending question marks and repeating the message until a response is returned. Compulsion interferes with attention by sidetracking our thoughts and interrupting the processing going on in the brain. This is why it is so important to teach teens how to manage their attention.
Why don’t we just take cell phones away from students?
Taking away external or environmental distractions can only go so far in helping teens manage their attention. The internal interruptions that disrupt their thought processes are much harder to control. These can be described as the nagging feeling in the back of the head that keeps surfacing, thereby creating a distraction from within. Because this activity is going on inside the head, it is difficult for an observer to detect. Essentially, attention has been split. This split can interfere with more complex processing that we require when we engage in deeper learning. This is when single attention is necessary.
Split attention just sounds like multi-tasking. Why is single attention important when teens seem to be better at multi-tasking than the previous generation?
Split attention is like multi-tasking and teens are no better at it than their elders. Multi-tasking entails handling a number of complex thought processes at once. Our brains are limited this way. Experience and conditioning do not change that. Teens may instead be managing their time more effectively when they task switch between each single stream of complex thought processes. This is likely because they have a lot of experience accessing multi-screens and a heightened exposure to multi-modes of communication throughout their lives. Because that exposure began at a younger age, they may not feel stress the same way as older generations or those not as experienced with technology when it comes to being inundated with information from different channels.
Single attention is what all learners use to process information on a deeper level. This is where critical thinking and higher order thinking processes take place. We know that distractions inhibit single focus.
Aren’t cell phones a distraction that can inhibit teens’ ability to single focus?
Cell phones in the classroom are a distraction when used inappropriately. But many cell phones have smart phone capabilities and act as mini-computers. They can increase productivity exponentially when used for good purpose.
But if you let kids have their smart phones in the classroom, aren’t they just going to use them for texting each other?
Cell phones are already in the classroom whether the teacher knows it or not. Kids text behind their backs, under their desks and even in their pockets. Some even enjoy the challenge of not getting caught as they interact with friends in that social space that adults cannot enter. When we ban cell phones we are inviting a challenge from teens that is in their very nature to engage. We also fail to guide those teens that feel a strong compulsion to interact 24/7. Essentially, we are allowing them to be conditioned to be on call.
Who can help students learn to self-regulate?
Parents and teachers can help students learn self-regulation. Parents can establish guidelines for proper cell phone use at home. The process should include a discussion between teens and parents to assess age-readiness and individual needs in developing guidelines tailored for each teen. Parents can also model appropriate social etiquette by regulating their own use. Teachers have a wonderful opportunity to guide students through the transition into a world where digital technologies are becoming extensions of ourselves. We see students every day for a good chunk of the day and we are already role models.
Imagine a space where teens come in to the classroom with their cell phones placed out on their desks and turned on in silent-mode. We open an opportunity:
1. to teach students social etiquette around texting;
2. to teach students how to manage their attention and compulsion.; and
3. for students to become self-aware, thereby guiding them on the journey to becoming autonomous.
Links to the experts appearing in the documentary:
Neil Andersen, Teacher, Author, Consultant, Association for Media Literacy
danah boyd, Microsoft Researcher and Harvard Fellow
David Buckingham, Professor of Education, London Knowledge Lab, University of London
David E. Meyer, Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan
Linda Stone, Former Senior Executive, Microsoft and Apple