by Stacie Muñoz

Do you know how many minutes you’ve spent using your smartphone today? How about how many times you’ve picked up your phone to check for notifications? Would you admit the answers to those questions if you could? At the beginning of the school year I asked my 9th Grade Digital Thinking class those three questions.

At Garrison Forest School we have a very lenient cell phone policy. Students are allowed to use their cell phones freely during passing periods, lunch, and free blocks. Cell phone use is restricted during all-school events and classes where they aren’t being used academically. It is not uncommon to see a student grab their phone within seconds of the class bell ringing to check for text messages and snapchats. If you ask our faculty about student cell phone use on campus, most will respond that they are “addicted.”

But are our students truly “addicted” to their devices? Are they on their phones as often as we think they are? How do we help our students foster a healthy relationship with their technology? I entered the school year with these questions fresh in my mind.

When polled, 72% of my students admitted to being “distracted” by their cell phones, and that their smartphone gets in the way of them being productive. Many of these students also complain of feeling over-extended and not having enough time to finish their homework. Because of this, I decided that one major unit of last trimester’s 9th grade Digital Thinking class would be around technology and time management, with a strong focus on cell phone use.

The first question I asked my students was, “How many minutes do you spend on your phone each day?” We used the app “Moment,” to find out how much they were using their phones each day. Moment runs in the background of your phone and keeps track of how much time you spend on your phone a day, as well as how many times you check your phone. Some students were shocked to find that they spent between 3-4 hours a day on their phone.

It was very important to me that we entered these conversation from a place of non-judgement. Most of my students admitted that they shy away from these important conversations with adults because they feel “judged” or “misunderstood”. What I’ve told my students is that it’s not my place to tell them how they use their time, that’s up to them as young adults. If they want to spend 3-4 hours a day on their phone and have the time to do so, that’s up to them. But they’re freely admitting that’s not the case. So what do we do? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

-Download Moment. Moment is a great app that gives you a clear picture of how much time you’re spending on your smartphone or ipad. You can also place daily limits on yourself to better moderate your screen time.

-Focus. Focus is one of many productivity apps that uses the 25-minute interval Pomodoro technique for time management to restrict your phone access for short periods of times. A quick search in the app store finds many other free and paid timer apps that do the same. Forest is one of my favorites.

-Unplug before bed. 70% of my 9th graders admit to sleeping with their phone next to their bed. I suggest investing in a separate alarm clock and moving your phone to other side of the room before falling asleep.

What are some tips that you share with students to encourage healthy cell phone habits?

Stacie Muñoz is an Upper School Digital Learning Specialist at Garrison Forest School.