Be smart, stay safe, put your phone down

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

It looks like some school districts across the state have finally had enough. The teachers and administrators grew tired of having to constantly remind their students to focus on their work versus what they were doing instead.

I refer to the growing number of students who bring a cellphone with them when they come to school every day. However, instead of using that phone as a way for their families to contact them in the event of an emergency or other situation, many of these students seem addicted to these gadgets. Instead of leaving their phone at home or somewhere out of plain sight, they spend their time simply playing on these devices versus what they’re supposed to do – focus their attention on what their teacher is doing to help these children successfully finish their assignments in the limited amount of time available during the school day.

Having served as a substitute teacher in schools across town over the past couple of years, I literally lost count of the times I would check to see how students in the classroom were doing and to provide them with guidance if they were struggling with their work. But instead of seeing these students focused on their work, I tended to see many of them wasting their time playing games on their cell phone or other computer devices versus wisely using their time to finish their assignments before the class ended.

Then there were the times when students repeatedly came to me during class begging me to give them permission to listen to music on their computers. The problem I saw was ensuring these students were listening to school-appropriate music versus plugging into music filled with profanity or other inappropriate language. Whether any of these students actually got their work done was something I still can’t answer.

It’s these concerns that prompted some teachers in our community to start taking a stand against this distracted behavior. One high school teacher, for example, kept a cardboard box near his desk. Any time he caught someone playing on their phone, they were required to turn it into the teacher, who kept it inside the box until class ended. Even then, these students had to ask permission to get their phone back.

It’s this type of distracted behavior that has a growing number of school districts across Idaho taking steps to “unplug” their students from the temptations associated with technology. Among them is the West Ada School District, which is looking at approving a district-wide policy that would simply keep students from having cellphones in the classroom. Instead, students would start the day by turning in their phone at a designated location within the school, where it would remain until the day ended.

After all, if a parent needs to contact their children due to a family emergency or other situation, they could simply call the school and talk to the administrators, who would then have the student come to the front office as needed.

The crackdown on cellphone use by children and teens stems from ongoing studies and research that highlights the importance of removing cell phones from students during school. In addition to improving their classroom engagement and focus on their studies, “unplugging” these students from the temptations associated with technology also improves their mental health.

This is especially true with regards to the threats of cyberbullying in which students face the barrage of hateful messages sent by others who use “keyboard courage” to protect their anonymity.

But addition to technology comes with other risks outside of the classroom. I refer to the growing number of people in society that focus more on their electronic devices versus doing things to stay safe. This includes the people that prefer to play on their phones while they’re driving. I couldn’t even begin to count how many accidents are attributed to this type of distracted driving.

But just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, I witnessed other types of distracted driving. Within the past two weeks, I saw two teenagers swerving across the road while riding their bicycles down the street. The reason why they couldn’t stay on the right side of the road? Because they were too busy looking at their so-called “smart” phones versus playing it safe.

Fortunately, both teenagers avoided any serious problems because there were no cars heading toward them. Call it coincidence or possibly fate, but I’m glad I wasn’t there to witness them falling prey to their own carelessness.

Then there was the time when I was taking classes at Boise State University and I saw another person nearly earn what I refer to as a “Darwin Award.” That title refers to those people who do something utterly careless or stupid that ends up landing them in the hospital.

I was walking toward University Drive – one of the busiest roadways in that part of Boise – when my eyes spotted a young student walking toward the road with her face staring down at her phone. I was too far away to shout and get her attention, but I knew she was in danger if she didn’t stop.

Fortunately, right before she stepped onto the roadway, a gentleman rapidly stepped in, grabbed her by the shoulder and yanked her back onto the sidewalk just as a car sped by. It was clear that car would’ve hit her had that man not stepped in.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the growing number of accidents involving people who drive their cars while playing with their phones. In 2022 alone, more than 3,300 people across the United States lost their lives due to driving while distracted, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It’s something that should never happen, given the fact we don’t need to constantly “plug” ourselves into our so-called “smart” phones.

Looking back on everything I’ve dealt with regarding society’s addiction to technology, I’m thinking the Mountain Home School District needs to follow the example school districts like West Ada want to accomplish. They’re working to unplug students from technology to help provide them with the help they need to do one thing: become safe and responsible citizens of today’s society.

It’s something we need to seriously consider to keep our community safe.

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