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Take Away Their Cellphones: The Profound Impact of Screens and Social Media on Students

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Take Away Their Cellphones: The Profound Impact of Screens and Social Media on Students

The return to in-person learning in Fall 2021 marked a significant shift for educators, unveiling a transformed educational landscape shaped by the disruptions of the pandemic. Beyond academic challenges, teachers discovered that their students had undergone substantial emotional and psychological changes during extended periods of remote learning and social isolation. As schools grappled with the aftermath of the pandemic, it became evident that addressing the evolving needs of students required a holistic approach. This article explores the profound impact of screens and social media on students, the challenges posed by the pandemic, and practical strategies for creating classrooms that foster both academic success and emotional well-being.

The Screen Epidemic

The pandemic unfolded against the backdrop of a broader epidemic—the rise of smartphones and social media. Research by psychologist Jean Twenge highlighted the negative effects of excessive screen time, including increased rates of depression, anxiety, and isolation among teens. The ubiquitous presence of smartphones transformed peer and family relationships, altering the texture of daily life for young people. The decline in face-to-face interactions and the shift toward virtual spaces contributed to a decline in happiness and overall well-being.

The Pandemic Effects

With the onset of the pandemic, students’ screen time skyrocketed, exacerbating the negative consequences of smartphone use. A Common Sense Media study revealed a 17% increase in children’s daily entertainment screen usage between 2019 and 2021. The impacts were particularly pronounced among low-income families, highlighting the inequality in access to alternatives to screens. The rise in screen time, coupled with the disruptions caused by the pandemic, contributed to a mental health crisis among students, with increased feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

The Trouble with Task Switching

One significant issue linked to extensive smartphone use is constant task switching, leading to a decline in attention and concentration skills. The brain’s neuroplasticity means that habitual task switching results in a decreased ability to sustain attention, impacting learning outcomes. The pervasive distractedness induced by smartphones poses a considerable challenge to effective teaching and learning.

Strategies for Classroom Rewiring

Addressing the challenges posed by screens and social media requires a comprehensive approach to rewire classrooms for both academic success and emotional well-being. Restricting cellphone access during the school day emerges as a crucial strategy. Examples from France, Australia, and select American schools demonstrate that consistent enforcement of cellphone restrictions leads to positive changes in student behavior, fostering more meaningful social interactions.

Creating Belonging in Classrooms

Rewiring classrooms involves intentional efforts to create a sense of belonging. Classroom practices, such as “Habits of Attention” and “Habits of Discussion,” promote positive peer interactions, validating students and instilling a sense of importance. Recognizing and celebrating students’ contributions during regular school wide meetings further strengthens the sense of community.

School wide Strategies for Belonging

Expanding extracurricular activities, introducing schoolwide rituals, and implementing character education programs contribute to fostering a sense of belonging beyond the classroom. Initiatives like after-school sports programs, mascot voting, and engaging game-day experiences enhance student engagement and identity-building. Open-ended opportunities for students to connect outside the classroom, such as communal game areas, further contribute to a positive school environment.

Embracing Cellphone Restrictions

While skepticism and pushback may arise, implementing and enforcing cellphone restrictions is essential for creating an environment conducive to both learning and well-being. Balancing freedom with responsible usage, schools can set clear rules, such as turning off and stowing cellphones during the school day. Enforcing consistent policies and educating teachers on the reasons behind the restrictions are crucial for success.

Conclusion

As educators navigate the post-pandemic landscape, addressing the challenges posed by screens and social media becomes imperative for creating classrooms that nurture both academic achievement and emotional well-being. By implementing strategies to rewire classrooms, restrict cellphone access, and foster a sense of belonging, schools can play a pivotal role in mitigating the negative impacts of the digital era and creating environments where students thrive holistically.

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