Among the most pressing concerns of contemporary educators is device addiction. And in a very real sense, we’ve willingly brought the contagion into our own houses. For the first time in human history, the sum of human knowledge is available in a little computer/transmitter/receiver we can carry in our pockets, but rather than using them to develop our minds, to advance our civilization, we use them to regress. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, writing at The New York Post, explains:
In August 2016, I wrote an editorial for The Post about ‘digital heroin,’ where I compared the addictive potential of screens — video games, social media, smart phones — to that of a drug like heroin.
The article hit a nerve. Six million views later, the term ‘digital heroin’ has entered the popular culture.
Virtually any contemporary teacher can relate. Kardaras received an e-mail on that issue:
The email was from Pamela Collins, the clinical director of the Air Force Family Program, and she was asking me to speak at the annual gathering of mental health providers who treat Air Force families. Why did they want a presentation on the clinical signs of screen addiction? I was shocked at the response: ‘We have seen increased issues with gaming addictions in the [military] parents of young children and we have seen five cases where infants died as a result of physical abuse or neglect related to parents’ constant gaming.’
I was speechless. I knew from my friend and colleague Navy Cmdr. Dr. Andrew Doan that young soldiers were gaming in record numbers. He told me that if I went to any barracks, I’d find many young soldiers escaping PTSD or the boredom of military life through their compulsive video-game playing. Apparently, gaming had become the new drug of choice for young soldiers.
This, considering the ages of young soldiers, is not at all surprising. In my classes, I see the addiction that leads to the problems about which Kardaras speaks.
The e-mail went on to elaborate on the problem: ‘We identified airmen with personal hygiene issues are a red flag for gaming addictions as they don’t take care of the house, themselves, the kids or even the pets when they are gaming. They don’t even stop to go to the bathroom, they drink power drinks then they urinate in the bottles and they are lined up under the TV they are gaming on.’
Going days without sleep. Not able to break long enough to go to the bathroom. Playing to the point where your neglected baby dies. If that’s not an addiction, I don’t know what is.
Kardaras speaks of a number of cases in the civilian world where addicted parents played while their children died.
According to research by Boston Medical Center, 73 percent of parents used a mobile device continuously while dining out; most of those families observed were found to be completely engrossed in their mobile devices, swiping, texting and ignoring their children altogether.
Ignoring kids can not only be emotionally and psychologically damaging but can also be physically dangerous. According to Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and expert in ‘distracted parenting,’ parents should limit screen time because the danger from distracted parenting is no different than that of distracted driving: ‘It only takes a minute with a caretaker’s eyes and attention elsewhere for a little kid to get into trouble — it’s a safety risk.’
And speaking of distracted driving, the CDC reports that nine people die and over a thousand are injured every day as a result of this phenomenon — which usually involves texting and very often involves child fatalities in the car.
As with virtually any human issue, if one wants more of something, allow it, encourage it, even subsidize it, and one will get more. If one wants less, it must be suppressed. That’s where the education connection enters.
Cell phones, AKA smart phones, made their way into schools as fashion accessories. Like certain models of athletic shoes in the past, all the kids had to have a cell phone. And then educators made the problem worse by thinking cell phones a great technological advancement, a way to transform education.
Education is all about fads. Rename an old, failed concept, give it new acronyms, sell it as education’s salvation, and schools will pay hundreds of thousands for it, locking in another iteration of failure for many years, because the administrators that spend bundles of money can’t admit they’re wrong. The program limps along, damaging kids, enraging teachers, and wasting tons of taxpayer cash until the next magically transformative fad comes along. The old fad is quietly phased out; the new fad is installed, and the disaster begins anew.
Unfortunately, the current disaster –technology as education’s savior–is the most lucrative yet, and will probably take a decade or more to be relegated to the dustbin of idiotic educational ideas. It began with “BYOD”: bring your own device to school. A common part of this fad is the Chromebook–Goggle has its claws into this one. These are cheap little laptops stored in little 30-unit chargers and kept in classrooms. The basic idea is “technology” is so amazing, so transformative, Chromebooks will enable kids to learn and achieve like never before. Mostly they use them to surf the Internet or play video games. A part of this fad is the idea that kids should bring their own internet-accessible devices to school: cell phones, iPads, you name it. It’s transformative! It will encourage learning! Right. But only if one completely ignores human nature. The Chromebook scam is an article for another time. I mention it because it’s part of the current addiction problem.
Among the first things I teach my kids every year is the importance, and difficulty, of paying attention. If we live to 90, we will have spent 30 years asleep. That’s eight hours per day, 33% of our time on this mortal coil. I ask my kids, given they’re losing 1/3 of their life from their first minute of life, how much more of their life–their life–they’re willing to lose because they can’t, or won’t, pay attention to what’s happening in front of their face. They think about that, for a minute, and then start texting or playing a video game.
Few schools have the courage to ban cell phones entirely. The idea that there is somehow a human right to a cell phone seems to have taken hold, and administrators are reluctant indeed to remove the most dangerous and addictive distraction of all time. Consider this, gentle readers: cell phones are, for many kids, more interesting, more compelling than sex. Think I’m wrong? We have a generation that deals with others primary via texting. Developing full and rewarding human relationships is becoming a thing of the past. Sexting seems far more interesting to many kids.
I do have some kids, usually the most self-motivated and mature, who can resist the lure of the cell phone. But most exhibit the behavior of addicts, including physical manifestations of addiction when they can’t get to their phones. For many, no consequence is sufficiently daunting to keep them away from their cell phone. One might be able to get them to put it away for a moment or two, but they cannot get through a 45-minute class without texting or playing a game or otherwise interacting with their phones.
Earbuds and headphones are only an extension of the addiction. Kids are sneaky. Unless you watch them every second, they’ll slip in an earbud–it’s particularly pernicious with wireless earbuds–and they’ll be off to electronic dreamland.
Needless to say, it is becoming more and more difficult to teach. Cell phones and their accessories have become the most effective and addictive distractor yet invented. By the time kids get to high school, many are full-fledged addicts, so it’s no surprise when they kill themselves or others texting while driving, or as young parents, neglect and kill their children.
The solution begins, as it always does, with parents. Parents have to accept their role as parents, care not at all if their children are their pals, and take away their cell phones before they walk out the door to school in the morning. If they can tear themselves away from their own cell phones, that is.
Schools must ban cell phones. It would be best not to allow them on the premises, but if teachers so much as see them or ear buds, they must be confiscated and kept for a significant time, accompanied by significant and painful punishment. But that won’t happen. The kids would scream like, like, well, addicts deprived of their crack, and parents would be little better.
Instead, we’ll continue to not only allow, but encourage kids to develop a dependency on technology, and to withdraw further and further from involvement in the real world. We’re raising generations of voyeurs, people existing one remove for actual life. The salesmen and scam artists are right, though: technology is transformative.