A group of six panelists discussed the issue of smartphones in classrooms on Tuesday night at the L.V. Rogers gym. They each spoke for five minutes, then took questions from the audience of about 100 parents.
The following is a summary of panelists’ comments and their responses to parents’ questions.
Kari Kroker is an English teacher at L.V. Rogers who said she got tired of repeatedly telling distracted kids to put their phones away. Now she requires students to turn in their phones when they arrive in class because she says they disrupt learning and interfere with a sense of cohesion and community. She said her students have accepted this and parents support it.
Kroker said her English classes deal with subjects people have thought about for thousands of years, “and just to get our minds around some of these ideas, to formulate questions, requires a certain amount of quiet, and we need to create that space for them. I think they deserve time to be introspective. I think they deserve someone who will hold the world at bay and give them time to think and learn and ponder.”
Scott Rothermel, a retired police officer and the safe school co-ordinator for School District 8, talked about cyber-bullying and sexting (sending nude or semi-nude photos).
He said cyber-bullying can happen on any digital device at any time of day or night, not like earlier times when bullying could be avoided by simply going home.
“Amanda Todd (a Vancouver fifteen-year-old who committed suicide in 2012) was actually ‘sextorted’ — extorted for more sexual content,” he said. “And she was not just harassed from Vancouver but from all over Canada the U.S. and Europe. That is the difference. In a playground, there was some escape from that. Now it can be international.”
Rothermel said the average age for sexting among girls is 12 and among boys is 14.
A typical scenario, according to Rothermel, might be, “Hey, I have seen you in your bra and panties now, but I want more and I want a video. If you don’t give me those, I am going to show all your friends.”
He said we create automobiles for adults, not for children, and there are strict parameters around learning to drive. We should be thinking about digital devices in the same way, he said, and conversations about consent should begin early.
Terese Bowors, a Nelson parent in a blended family of four children, spoke about a device called Circle, through which a parent can control all internet content in the home on all devices. Parents can set time limits for platforms and apps, disable or pause the internet for specific periods of time (such as dinner time), set individual filters for different members of the family, and prohibit late night surfing.
“I had lost my children to the internet and I wanted them back,” she said, adding that with the new device, the internet shuts off at 9:30, “and that is when all the kids come up and jump on our bed, and I want that.”
She said Circle connects to the router in the home but that a subscription service is available that will filter the internet on a specific device anywhere in the country.
Liz Amaral has taught parenting courses at Nelson Community Services for more than 20 years. She said phones interfere with the attachment between parents and children “because it is in the eye contact, it is in the smiles, it is in the interactions between human beings, and smart phones rob us of the attachment.”
She said phones tend to increase children’s peer orientation, “and that means we as parents are factored out of the equation.”
Amaral called smartphones uninvited guests in the home. “So how do we invite them in, but have limits and controls so it is an invited guest?”
Yvonne Dawydiak, who appeared by a Skype connection, is a classroom teacher who currently trains teachers in the faculty of education at UBC. She said she is not in favour of banning phones from the classroom but rather negotiating the terms of their use. She said prohibition approaches to drug use and sexual activity have not worked, and banning phones would not either.
She said the adults’ job is to help young people move into adulthood where they may find themselves in work situations where they cannot use their phones. She said avoiding phone addiction requires conversations in the school and at home because children will not learn this on their own.
Dawydiak said there are now many schools across the province that teach self-regulation, and that the smartphone discussion belongs there.
There is much research and experience to recommend smartphones as a learning tool in classrooms,” she said.
Jeff Yasinchuk is a teacher librarian at Trafalgar Middle School. He said he was once an active technology leader in the school district and that he has recently had a change of heart. He said he has been disturbed lately because the school library is so quiet, with kids on their phones.
“I thought this does not feel right, in my heart. So I went ahead and banned devices in the library.”
Now he says the library is active again, with games, discussion, and reading.
“It’s a lot louder in there. It’s beautiful. I couldn’t be happier.”
Yasinchuk says he teaches a digital literacy to all Grade 6 classes at Trafalgar, covering online safety and privacy.
“The kids are really open to this discussion,” he said.
• Mr. Yaz’s change of heart (Feb. 2018)
• Tragalgar takes a digital device holiday (Feb. 2018)