Distracted learning

cellphones 280.pngHand held devices are a misplaced asset in classrooms today. Some people, including most students, consider them essential to life. Most teachers believe them to be a major distraction.

Learning is affected if children are paying attention to mobile devices instead of teachers. Ophthalmologists worry about digital eyestrain. But, one prominent professor of psychology worries about more serious troubles. Jean M. Twenge’s article Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? was published in The Atlantic. She writes:

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health.


These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.


…Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones…


…the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy..

Writing in the Globe and Mail, columnist Gary Mason called for a ban on cellphones in the classroom. Mason argues:

The argument some parents make that kids should be linked to their phones at all times is terribly misguided.


Many teachers, meantime, are frankly tired of fighting this fight and have given up. Others have decided it takes too much of their energy to police. But teachers and school administrators should develop some spine. When did we decide to let kids and their parents run the classroom?


…If we want our students to do better, let’s help them by banning cellphones in the classroom.

There is enough scientific knowledge of potential harm that, if elected to the Board of School District 44, I would support a district-wide ban on students possessing cellphones and other mobile digital devices in classrooms.

Author: Norm Farrell

Gwen and I raised three adult children in North Vancouver. Each lives in our community with seven grandchildren, 12 years and younger. I have worked in accounting and financial management and publish IN-SIGHTS.CA with news and commentary about public issuesv.

3 thoughts

  1. Scientific evidence? Hmm. I’ve been told over and over by my optometrists through my lifetime that close up reading would not have contributed to my own or my child’s myopia. My child’s myopia presented at the same age father and paternal grandmother’s did. Coincidence? I think not.

    Teachers need to be able to engage their students. Again, through my own lived experience I can tell you school kids were perfectly able to ignore the teacher, the lesson, and do their own thing during class ling before there were smartphones, or eve n pocket calculators. When television began to disrupt the world as we knew it the same sort of fears were rampant among the older generations too. The world changes, and people change too.


  2. I consulted my granddaughter, who is twelve. She informs me that a great deal of the distraction in the classroom from smartphones is due to the many notification alerts going off on the students’ devices, often when the instructor is speaking. This interrupts trains of thought for the whole class, not just the offending smartphone owner.

    There is currently a massive attempt to get smartphones out of the driver’s seat in vehicles, with mounting evidence of the carnage distracted driving causes. Why would we at the same time promote a distracted learning environment in our classrooms?

    The world changes. But anyone who believes all change is good just because it’s change is doing themselves a disservice.


  3. I worry about something not mentioned: the ability to learn, retain knowledge and being able to analyze information: critical thinking. Build & nourishing a useful brain. Instead of research, putting an idea together, everyone simply Googles info and moves on. Poor memory retention. The internet is contributing to humanities ‘dumbing down’. Less brain cells,, synapses are being created. Stupid people are easier to manipulate and control.
    Many falsely trust results on a search not being aware those first results bought that placement. Many youths can barely read or write and have the attention span of gnats.


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