We laughed at Maxwell Smart’s shoe-phone and those early brick-shaped, cumbersome cell phones.
Who could have imagined that the mobile phone would become ubiquitous and eventually replace landline telephones?
Who could have predicted that parents would buy the hype that their primary school-aged children should have the latest expensive smartphone?
Who would have imagined that the leader of the free world would communicate directly with fellow Twitterati via his smart phone?
Like most proclaimed wonder-inventions and panaceas, there are invariably harmful side-effects.
The US Department of Health has revealed that 48 per cent of children who use electronic devises, like smart-phones, for five or more hours a day have suicide-related thoughts. The rise in teenage depression in the USA between 2010-16 was 60 per cent.
Clearly, access to such devices is not the single cause of these alarming statistics.
However, if we care for our children, the onus on schools is to not simply to accept the ubiquity of smart phones but be wary of the effects use of such technology might be having on their students.
Some schools regard the smartphone as an invaluable learning tool and encourage its use. others ban them during school hours as an unwelcome distraction in the classroom.
Studies of the teenage brain suggest that schools should be very concerned about smartphone use and that time and space should be found in the curriculum to examine the evidence and educate their students about the possible dangerous side-effects.
In The Teenage Brain, Frances Jensen claims that smart-phone over-use affects the anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with emotion-processing, decision-making, depression and addiction disorders.
“We know that teens have very undeveloped impulse control and empathy and judgement,” Jensen claims. She also asserts that teenagers have a hyper-active risk-reward system that predisposes them to become addicted more quickly than adults.
Being connected 24/7 and living in a virtual-world, teenagers are no longer developing communication skills that generations before took for granted.
Whether they be in playgrounds, trains, restaurants or at the dinner table, our children are vulnerable to the worst influences of the internet and social media.
Schools can wring their hands about their students’ smartphone addiction or feebly accept that smartphones are a fact of life in the modern digital world.
For my part, even if one suicide can be prevented by critically analyzing the side-effects of smartphone use, it is worth schools prioritising the issue in the curriculum.
It is not only a matter of how smartphone addiction might adversely impact a student’s learning effectiveness, but more critically, the devastating psychological harm which we are now only realising might accrue from our brave new world of interconnectivity.
There is no greater duty a school has than caring for their students’ health and welfare.