School News

The Problem with Technology

Kim Ridley, Head of School
I was scrolling through the Atlantic magazine online and came across a 2017 article entitled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation.” I originally wrote these reflections in preparation for our January Parent Association meeting. Farely and Erin designed several breakout rooms, and overall, we had a thoughtful and productive conversation.
Our ability to provide an education, and to work from home would be impossible without the advancement of technology and the use of screens. The pandemic has solidified screens as part of the academic, social, and emotional landscape of schooling. I think of technology, with all of its positives and negatives, as two sides of the same coin. On one side of the coin is the fascinating use of technology as a tool that can help students make all kinds of interesting cognitive connections in their learning. At Fayerweather, I observe teachers empowering students to discover, critique, and leverage content and resources in meaningful and powerful ways.

The other side of the coin represents the virtual social world in which our children exist. It is stimulating and fun, yet often confusing, and sometimes, an imaginary place where there is a false sense of connection and reality. The important issue raised in the Atlantic article is the psychological costs of screen time, especially related to time spent on social media channels such as instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and so on. According to the author of the study, Jean Twenge, who has been researching generational differences for the past 25-years, “there has been an abrupt shift (since 2012) in teen behaviors and emotional states.” I am sharing a brief excerpt from the article:

“The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health.” She goes on to say, “ the trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphones.” The implications of this research suggests that today’s teens are less independent; are less likely to date; there is a significant decline in sexual activity--which has some positive implications (teen pregnancy); and in getting one’s drivers license and working. Twenge goes onto say that “young adolescents today are likely in their rooms on their phones, alone and often distressed.”

It is quite remarkable to witness the increase in mental health diagnoses and challenges that I have witnessed in schools over the past 15-years. In so many ways, the growth of technology has made adult life more demanding and anxiety provoking, as the heightened demands to be consistently responsive to social media and emails, along with a deluge of non-stop information. The way we manage social media and technology often places adults at risk for burnout and further reinforces poor modeling for our children. 

It makes sense that after months of students being away from school, friends, and being on screens, the joy of being together is palpable! I am acutely aware of how non-screen activities such as playing outside, talking and laughing with each other in the hallway, and working on projects together creates a more satisfying social engagement. In-person social engagement is key to healthy psychological growth, development, and well being. As the article highlighted, “eighth graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56% more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.”

Social media and technology advances will continue to evolve. In other words, this is here to stay. As parents and educators, how do we partner in our growing awareness of how to best support each other in making sure that we are supporting healthy child/teen development? If screen time is difficult for me to manage as a fully developed adult then what are we expecting from our children? Parenting in the age of anxiety is beyond challenging, and yet, it is our work to provide our children the skills and tools to better manage themselves. This happens best through collaboration, transparency, limit setting, compassion, and yes, they will push back, argue and defy, and ultimately, will turn around to see if you are still present and holding your ground.

In partnership,
Fayerweather Street School | 765 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 | 617-876-4746
Fayerweather is a private PreK, kindergarten, elementary and middle school. We engage each child’s intellect.