When Should We Unplug a Student in a Plugged-In World?

As technology becomes more mainstream across the nation, the risks of addictive use are rising.

In a highly fast-paced, technology-driven society, the very tool we use to explore new worlds, find new people, and play games is also causing problems across the world. America is now beginning to take notice.

The sixty four dollar question is can there be too much technology for our friendly, little fourth grader or our testosterone filled junior? According to research, the answer is simple – yes.

Let’s be clear. The controlled use of technology, specifically the Internet and video games, in our students’ lives is a wonderful way to supplement learning and to stimulate the mind. But gone unchecked, the addictive nature of these tools is beginning to rear its ugly head. In an article by Frontline published in 2014, it’s reported that 95% of US teens use the Internet. That’s not surprising. The technological push has become more pronounced in schools across the nation. Schools have computers in every corner. And every device imaginable resides in homes, many of which sit in the privacy of children’s bedrooms.

While being connected isn’t a bad thing, it’s what they’re doing online, and the frequency, that raises concern. Young children and teens are creating uninhibited extensions of their identities online without understanding the risks. Imagine handing a young child a power tool and asking them to use it wisely.

Brain development

Children lack a developed pre-frontal cortex. In a mature brain, that part helps determine good and bad, future consequences of current activities, prediction of outcomes, social control, and more. Being given complete control of such a powerful tool invites a plethora of problems. In addition to simple brain development, studies on this topic are suggesting the pronounced use of technology appears to be delaying frontal brain development in many of our students.

As educators and parents, what can we do when this behavior is becoming more and more normative? It begins with careful monitoring and saying no. And to take note when a child seems to struggle with restrictive use; it may be an indication that there is a larger problem at work. Here are some ways you can address this topic:

In the classroom

Always educate your students on the rules of your classroom but also the risks of excessive technology use. Consider these ideas:

  • “Emergency” phone calls from parents need not disrupt your classroom. Inform and enforce that all calls should go to the office first.
  • Utilize a hanging shoe organizer to have students deposit their device at the beginning of class. If any phones interrupt that are not in the organizer, see the next bullet.
  • Create a phone prison. Nothing gets in. Nothing gets out.
  • “Bring it, leave it” policy. Finding opportunities to separate your students from their device is key. Ask that all personal devices be left in lockers or cubbies.

On the home front

Look for an opportunity to educate parents about the risks of excessive Internet and gaming use in their children. Offer these friendly, family building opportunities:

  • No-tech weekends, tables (including the dinner table), or car rides. You too, parents.
  • Suggest eliminating computers, devices, and gaming consoles from the child’s personal space
  • For parents who are concerned with their child’s frequency of use or dependency, suggest setting screen time limits. Taking it away completely can be difficult and in addictive cases, explosive; however, setting time limits is completely reasonable.
  • Encourage parents to replace tech-free time with something constructive, requiring socializing with family or friends.

As Clarice learns from the wise Hannibal Lecter, people begin to covet what they see every day. If our students weren’t spending every day playing games or making their hourly rounds on the Internet (Actually, it’s estimated that teens spend 9 hours a day on media, and that doesn’t include school use), what would they be doing with their time? Are they missing anything? Without addressing this developing problem, we will never know the answer to these questions.

If any students exhibit strange behavior upon enforcing Internet or video game restrictions, Beard and Wolf’s 2001 Criteria for Maladaptive Internet Use may prove a valuable resource. Consider referring the student to a guidance counselor if your concerns are great enough or consider speaking to the child’s guardian.

If this topic interests you, many resources are a Google search away. Here are a few:

  1. Net Addiction: FAQs.
  2. Internet and Computer Addiction.
  3. UnityPoint Health: Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery: What is video-game addiction?
  4. UnityPoint Health: Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery: What is Internet addiction?
  5. Vice: Inside the Tragic, Obsessive World of Video Game Addicts.
  6. US National Library of Medicine: Prefrontal Control and Internet Addiction.
  7. CyberPsychology & Behavior: Modification in the Proposed Diagnostic Criteria for Internet Addiction.
  8. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Teens and Tweens


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