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Creating a Cell Phone Sanctuary

Over the past few years, I have noticed a change in my students.  Not only are they tethered to their phones, but they are more anxious than ever.  In the past two school years, I have had at least three students experience school anxiety so severe that they could not come to school.   Those are just MY students.  This year I have had one student leave our school after her mother spent three weeks trying to drag her to class each morning as her daughter screamed, cried, and sometimes refused to get out of the car.  According to an article titled "Teen Anxiety and Depression: the Kids are not Alright" published in 2016, "In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million report experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. About 30% of girls and 20% of boys–totaling 6.3 million teens–have had an anxiety disorder, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.  Today I found out that one of our students was hospitalized for anxiety; I cried.  He is twelve. I don't remember this happening when I was in middle school.

What is happening to our kids? I wrestle with this question each day. Yes, I know I am old, but I know something has changed.  Are they getting too much homework? Is it the tough competition to get into college?  Is it the economic uncertainty that they may be privy to? Is it that the internet has made them so much more aware of all that is happening in the word-terrorism, global warming, and political chaos?  Is it helicopter parents? Is it social media?  

Yesterday I walked to my classroom at 6:45 AM. Sitting outside my classroom were two boys, both staring at their phone screens. Neither one said a word to the other or made eye contact. When I finally opened my door, they did not even look up from their phones but managed to walk through the door and find their seats.  Then, later in the day, I  asked a student to put his phone away twice; he didn't.  I asked him to hand me the phone, and you would have thought he was handing me his first born child.  He burst into tears and cried for the remainder of the period! If I give students a short break during class, many of them immediately ask, "Can we go on our phones?"  I say no and tell them that they have  to each other!  They look at me as if I am a three-legged unicorn.

Students are checking their grades guessed it...on their PHONES!  They walk into class staring at their grades on their phone screens and immediately start asking questions about them.  As soon as they take an assessment or finish an essay, they want to know, "When is it going into Aeries? Will you have it in before lunch?"  

With my own kids, Snapchat and Instagram are the two biggies.  Apparently, there is something called a "streak" on Snapchat which is important to many of our kids. There is a running tally of consecutive days that you and each person have Snapchatted.  Kids want to keep streaks going. Another reason for them to be on their phones and requires no talking or real interaction.

I have decided that over break I will be purchasing a shoe caddy in which all phones will be placed when students walk into my room.  I am going to declare my classroom a sanctuary from cell phones.  No checking grades, no checking social media, no texting, and no playing games during breaks instead of interacting with our peers and teacher.  Instead, we will practice deep breathing, focus on the joy of learning, play old-fashioned games like four corners, and enjoy each other.  

Although I don't know for certain that cell phones are to blame for the increase in anxiety, I don't think it will hurt to assume that they are.  I will take measures in my classroom to break the bond between student and cell phone, even if only for an hour or two. 

Oh, and that student whose phone I took away last week?  Today I caught him playing games on his phone again when he was supposed to be working on an activity with his group.  I took the phone again, and you guessed it, he burst into tears. Something needs to change, and it will in my classroom.

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