Away for the day

PVMS New Digital Device Policy - Rationale

“They come home from school, and they’re on their devices.  A whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed, they’re much less comfortable taking risks, the rates at which they get driver's licenses has been dropping.  The number who have ever gone out on a date or who has had any kind of romantic interaction is dropping rapidly.   This is a real change in a generation.  And remember for every one of these, for every hospital admission, there is a family that is traumatized and horrified, ‘Oh my god what is happening to our kids’”  — Dr. Jonathan Haidt, Social Psychologist, NYU

Many of us feel something has been different, or maybe a little bit off with our society in regards to social interaction since the introduction of the smartphone, and we are all attempting to adjust to it.  Conversations at the dinner table, connections with our spouses, time spent with our loved ones are all disrupted by notifications.  More screens on at night in our houses and less kids outside playing in the neighborhood.  Never has it been easier to be connected, or disconnected.  We all know that something is different, and it has happened very quickly.  There has not been a period in human history where technology has changed human behavior as rapidly as smartphones have in their roughly 15 years of existence.  What is this doing to our kids?  Are our kids’ brains capable of handling this type of bombardment?  An entire competitive economy of dopamine manipulation between Silicon Valley companies for our attention, with the goal of addiction, has completely disrupted how we live our lives - and our students are caught right in the middle of it all.

We do understand that moving to an “away for the day” digital device philosophy may cause some anxiety and stress amongst our student population.  This is understandable, as students have been conditioned to having access to their phones/digital devices consistently throughout the day, especially since the pandemic.  Students that do have access to a cell phone rely on it for much of their communication, and from some of the research out there, rely on it for social standing.  However, the research is sound that spending more than 3+ hours on a device is harmful to adolescent mental health (Twenge et al., 2018).  The average Middle School student will spend between 6-9 hours on screens throughout the day (Common Sense Media, 2015) and research even shows that having a device NEAR students causes issues (Mendoza et al. 2018).

Adult brains are developed to the point in which we are able to control (to an extent) our impulses when it comes to devices.  However, the tech companies have been able to manipulate our psychology for our attention, and even though we have fully developed brains, can fall victim to screen addiction.  Our students do not have the same brain maturity as we do to be able to control screen impulses in the way that adults do.  Device notifications give us excitement and release dopamine in our brains.  Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that when it is released makes you feel good and more release of dopamine tends to make us crave something more.  Our smartphone devices have been designed with this in mind, to keep your attention for as long as possible.

The amount of research out there about what smartphone use is doing to our students in Generation Z is alarming, and we have no precedent with how to deal with this type of rapid change in childhood, especially since we as adults are adapting to these changes along with our children.  As many of our smartphones will show, we have 3+ hours of screen time per day as well.  However, our brains are fully developed and we can handle distractions because of our level of maturity and life experience.  

Generation Z is the first generation to experience adolescence with smartphones, and the impact that they are having on our students is staggering:

Social/Emotional effects

  • Increased social media use is linked to developing depression (Magsam, 2020)

  • Major depressive episodes (MDE) have gradually increased since 2012 (First time 50% of US population owned smartphones) (Ramin et al., 2016) 

  • Increased suicide risk amongst US adolescents after 2010 who have more than 3 hours of screen time (Twenge et al., 2017)

  • International increases in teen loneliness (we’re more connected and more lonely than ever) (Twenge et al., 2021)

  • 8th graders with above average screen time usage have a 27% higher risk of depression while students who exceed the average time playing sports, hanging out with friends face to face, or doing homework have a significantly lower risk of depression (Twenge, 2017)

  • Teens who spend 5+ hours on screens are 51% more likely to get less than 7 hours of sleep (9 is recommended for MS students) (Twenge, 2017)

  • Cyberbullying victims were more likely to report using screens for 3+ hours per day (Rice et al., 2014)

  • “Nomophobia,” or fear of being without a cell phone affects students emotionally and academically (Carels, 2019)

Academic effects

  • Cell phones create a “temptation” to explore social media during class (Lepp et al., 2015)

  • When students’ primary use of the smartphone is for leisure, and the student uses the cell phone while completing a task, they are more likely to lose focus and not complete the task (Lepp et al., 2015)

  • Students score significantly higher on a test when cell phones were completely removed from the room rather than on the students’ person (Mendoza et al., 2018)

  • Elementary school students who reported higher levels of screen time had lower levels of crystallized intelligence (knowledge that comes from prior learning and past experiences that one builds over time) - hindering cognitive growth (Walsh et. al, 2020)

  • Students who played video games excessively read below grade level, but families that limited screen time had higher levels of crystallized intelligence (Walsh et al. 2020)

  • Research suggests the more individuals use their device, the less motivated they are to complete daily tasks (Duncan et al. 2012; Lepp et al., 2017; Liu et al., 2011)

  • Cell phones hinder learning & affect an individual's ability to focus.  Cell phones should not be used during developmental years because brains are still developing (Carels, 2019)

  • Engagement in the classroom is affected when students are allowed to use cell phones in class (Duncan et al., 2012)

  • In a study by Gao et al. (2017) middle school students were more in favor of a cell phone policy compared to HS students and would prefer to have a time during the day to check their phones to avoid the temptation of checking during class

  • Gao et al. (2017) also found that parents agree that having cell phones are necessary, but only if students need to reach them for emergencies.  Parents reported belief that cell phones could cause disruptions but should be allowed in the building for safety reasons.  Parents and students both believe there should be cell phone policies in place that allow use at appropriate times.

Face to face time with peers strongly correlates with less depressive feelings.  We feel that it is our duty to create an educational environment that promotes such interactions.  This is why we are not permitting digital devices to be used in the cafeteria during lunch this school year.  While we do have to learn to live with smartphones and digital devices, adolescence is the time to lay the foundation of interpersonal skills for a lifetime.  It is our belief that these procedures will lead to a more fulfilling educational experience for our students and hopefully ignite many conversations with your families about smartphones and technology in your households!  

References & Resources

Dr. Jean Twenge’s work

Can social media use cause depression?

iGen: The Smartphone Generation | Jean Twenge | TEDxLagunaBlancaSchool

Social Dilemma - Netflix

(smartphone apps are designed to keep you on there so advertisers get their money’s worth.  Designed to be addictive.)

Center for Humane Technology - Youth Toolkit

Carels, B. (2019). Changing Our Mindset in Regards to Cellphones in the Classroom. BU Journal of Graduate Studies in Education, 11(2), 9–12. 

Common Sense Media (2015). “Landmark Report: U.S. Teens Use an Average of Nine Hours of Media Per Day, Tweens Use Six Hours

Duncan, D. K., Hoekstra, A. R., & Wilcox, B. R. (2012). Digital Devices, Distraction, and Student Performance: Does In-Class Cell Phone Use Reduce Learning? Astronomy Education Review, 11(1). doi: 10.3847/aer2012011 

Gao, Q., Yan, Z., Wei, C., Liang, Y., & Mo, L. (2017). Three different roles, five different aspects: Differences and similarities in viewing school mobile phone policies among teachers, parents, and students. Computers & Education, 106, 13– 25. 

Lepp, A., Barkley, J. E., & Karpinski, A. C. (2015). The Relationship Between Cell Phone Use and Academic Performance in a Sample of U.S. College Students. SAGE Open, 5(1),

Lepp, A., Barkley, J. E., & Li, J. (2017). Motivations and experiential outcomes associated with leisure time cell phone use: Results from two independent studies. Leisure Sciences, 39(2), 144–162.

Liu, M., Horton, L., Olmanson, J., & Toprac, P. (2011). A study of learning and motivation in a new media enriched environment for middle school science. Educational Technology Research & Development, 59(2), 249–265.

Magsam, Shannon. “Increased Social Media Use Linked to Developing Depression, Research Finds.” University of Arkansas News, University of Arkansas, 10 Dec. 2020,

Mendoza, J. S., Pody, B. C., Lee, S., Kim, M., & McDonough, I. M. (2018). The effect of cellphones on attention and learning: The influences of time, distraction, and nomophobia. Computers in Human Behavior, 86, 52–60. 

Ramin et al.(2016) American Academy of Pediatrics

Rice  et al. October 14, 2014 Published Online: February 09, 2015 

Twenge, Jean. PhD. iGen.  New York:  Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), 2017

Twenge et al. Clinical Psychological Science, 2017; 216770261772337

Twenge J.M, Martin GN, Campbell WK (2018). “Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology,” Emotion, no pagination specified

Twenge J.M, Jonathan Haidt, Andrew B. Blake, Cooper McAllister, Hannah Lemon, Astrid Le Roy, “Worldwide increases in adolescent loneliness,” Journal of Adolescence, Volume 93, 2021, Pages 257-269, ISSN 0140-1971,

Walsh, J. J., Barnes, J. D., Tremblay, M. S., & Chaput, J.-P. (2020). Associations between duration and type of electronic screen use and cognition in US children. Computers in Human Behavior, 108, N.PAG. https://doiorg.jerome.stjohns....