put down your phone

Working in a district that has a 1-to-1 technology initiative (all students 2nd-12th grade are given devices by the county), I am constantly wondering about the best ways to get children to use this technology responsibly. One major concern — which is often used in arguments against 1-to-1 technology programs — is that putting these devices into kids’ hands turns them into easily distractible zombies who are addicted to video games and don’t collaborate or talk to their friends anymore, consumed by their screens.

I think there are a lot of things wrong with that assumption to start with (that is a post for another day…), but I also think that it then falls to us to model responsible use and to set limits on when devices should and should not be used. Some teachers I’ve spoken to have a policy that the technology should be used to create, not only to consume. I think this is a wonderful place to start! When I see kids in the halls playing mindless online games on their iPads, I usually ask them to turn it off. But if they are editing code on Hopscotch or creating a dance video with their friends, I excitedly ask to see what their progress!!

Then of course, there have to be some limits… Hopscotch is great, but not when we’re supposed to be researching famous Americans! I’m glad you want to keep typing your story during recess, but I also want you to take this time to run around and get some fresh air.

But I think maybe the most important thing we can do as adults is to model this behavior ourselves. It’s easy to stomp our feet and pout about children becoming addicted to screens, but then we must examine our own habits. It’s hard to comprehend even for me, but kids these days have never lived in a world without internet. Some have never lived in a world without iPhones. How many times do they look up and see their parents tapping away on their phones or consumed by an article on their tablet? They are not learning on their own to become screen-obsessed.

How can we expect kids to conform to our notions of a technology-free childhood when all of their role models act otherwise?

And if you think kids don’t notice when their parents momentarily check out  in favor of a recent email or urgent text message, then I have a story for you:

Since September, I have been teaching an once-per-week after school enrichment class in Drama. At the end of each session, I invite the parents to come in and see a short play or presentation of some things we have been working on in the class. A few days ago, I had my second class “sharing” for an outer space themed drama class for K-2 students.

Over the past 10 weeks, we had explored all kinds of space-related activities: creating alien puppets, reading books about astronauts, building Mars rovers with our bodies, and drawing our own constellations. Each student had a chance to talk about one or two of their projects and share with their parents.

“If you are sharing your constellation today, please moon walk over to where your drawing is hanging.” I announced.

Claire, Nina, Elise, Henry and Maddie stood up and took giant slo-mo steps toward the board where their drawings were hanging, just as we had practiced 30 minutes earlier. Claire, a very loquacious kindergartener had trouble maintaining her composure with the opportunity to play to such a large crowd and immediately started bouncing on her spot.

“MOMMY LOOK, THIS ONE IS MINE MOMMY, OVER HERE!” she screamed, jamming her finger into her blue and white dotted constellation. Her mom was sitting about 6 feet away.


For a split second, the room froze. The collective horror and shame of every adult in the room turned slowly into embarrassed chuckles.

In Claire’s mom’s defense, I believe she was actually in the process of taking a proud photo of her enthusiastic daughter, but that moment of being caught — and called out — is not isolated. Hey, I’m not perfect either. I catch myself distracted by my phone at school: responding to a quick text in the hall, scrolling through twitter before class… but I am trying to be more aware of these moments, so I can be a good role model for the students who I reprimand each day for being distracted by a game on their iPads.

Every parent in every book or movie I’ve seen has one goal: that their children will be better than they are. If we want our kids to use technology to create great things, to be better coders, better problem solvers, better designers than we are, it’s not enough to give them these powerful tools. We need to start by showing them the way to use them. ❂



Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

6 thoughts on “put down your phone

  1. Very well said and I couldn’t agree more. I see countless people on the daily commute buried in their phones and, I have to admit, I’m one of the first to check my phone at lunch. I get the ‘put your phone down’ a lot from my colleagues but all four of us end up on our phones at some point.

    It’s become so commonplace and habitual that we think nothing of it. At times I feel a real compulsion to check my phone. I can ignore it when I want to, but it’s there. Case in point: I’ve just woken up and the first thing I reached for was my phone. I haven’t even gotten out of bed yet.

    I agree we need to set an example for the next generation. As creative as devices like the iPad are with Hopscotch etc, I see my nephews get easily engrossed. Luckily they do a lot of other activities to land I try to be the responsible Uncle, always buy ‘analog’ gifts rather than the latest game or whatnot.

    Great post. My wife also wrote about this recently: http://catsandchocolate.com/2016/03/16/the-age-of-distraction/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t get that bothered by people occasionally checking their phones, I realize that’s part of life now. But I have a problem with people (parents especially) who are afraid to embrace technology for their kids because of all of the “studies” showing links to negative behaviors… they shouldn’t be afraid to put such powerful powerful tools in their kids’ hands! As parents and teachers, we ultimately have the ability to influence a child’s habits!!!

      Thanks for the link, I’ll have to check it out!


  2. This is so true! It’s great to be connected, but we need to set an example for kids. Many times it’s more important to be in the moment without distractions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My school is one-to-one too and we just had a discussion about this. I have seen some great presentations about learning, but have also taken away privileges because of misuse. Kids are kids and, if we as adults are so distracted, we can’t blame kids for being distracted. Giving them computers just means we need to be even more vigilant in training them how to use technology responsibly. Sometimes it is so tiring to continue to repeat yourself, but isn’t that our job? To guide them well? Great post.


    1. Exactly! I get frustrated by people who are unwilling to embrace the power of technology because they are afraid of all the bad things that could happen. But we have to keep pushing for this responsible use, because otherwise we are missing out on a hugely powerful tool!!!


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