It’s back to school time and lots of students have electronic devices on their school supply list thanks to the growing popularity of Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiatives. The question is have parents and school districts done their homework?
There are many excellent resources that promote good digital citizenship in education. However, one critical element of the technology equation often gets overlooked.
Based on the science of brain development, students lack the capacity to be fully responsible for their behavior with electronic devices (or otherwise). The frontal lobe of the brain is the last part to develop and is where empathy, reason, compassion, risk taking, problem solving, etc. occur (fyi, multiple autopsies on “shooters” reveal damaged or missing frontal lobes). We can and should teach (and model) responsible behavior both on and offline. But that does not relieve parents or schools from the obligation of ensuring a safe and healthy environment for all students.
Many BYOT initiatives do everything but ensure student safety. A lot of these initiatives allow, even encourages, devices with the ability to access all manor of content in the hands of children who do not have the physical or legal capacity to process the consequences of their actions. A flood of these (often unrestricted) devices -a boon for sellers- has been deployed in school systems all over, giving kindergardeners the same freedom and access as graduating seniors. Hiding behind children’s internet protection and safety acts and network access/ liability parent release forms does nothing to address the real problems or safeguard against legitimate dangers. But, it does establish the priorities, character, and integrity of those in leadership. Attempts to engage some of these leaders on these extremely urgent matters are routinely disregarded and dismissed, sometimes even met with contempt.
Just this week we learned that a Harvard student released an app that highlights major privacy and safety concerns. The student harvested readily available data and in just a couple weeks was able to figure out a friend’s schedule, making it possible to pinpoint a senders whereabouts within less than a meter.
The concerns about technology don’t stop with safety. Through the field of neuroplasticity we can see that overexposure to TV, gaming, and electronics can change the way the brain grows, processes, and develops. That does not suggest that TV, games, and technology are responsible for all our ills, but rather how we sometimes use them that can be a problem. There is a spectrum for how different people process and manifest different types and amounts of exposure that goes far beyond the issue of just content (although content can also be a big part of the problem).
Much like the age of transportation eventually evolved to include seat belts, we are living in the wild west of media and technology and must remember we still have a lot to learn. For example, if we use technology at night artificial screen light goes through the receptors in the eye and can disrupt the sleep cycle, which begins early in the morning because our brains cue off light and dark. We keep hearing students are sleep deprived. Some even buy into the notion that their brains are not capable of learning in the morning. It’s more than a coincidence that we don’t see this problem in third world countries, who aren’t as plugged in, or in previous generations.
Our bodies are tied to nature through circadian rhythm (body clock) and important chemicals and processes are put into play early in the morning, triggered by light, food, exercise, etc. These cycles produce chemicals like serotonin, melatonin and Vitamin D, that are responsible for a variety of healthy functions, and are the building blocks of our physical and emotional health and well being. Believe it or not, our bodies were engineered to make all these chemicals naturally long before drug companies put them in a bottle and we went crazy. Our habits and behaviors can easily and inadvertently short circuit our bodies own systems. Pharmaceutical substitutes leave a lot out of the process. When possible, it is recommended we also continue a natural regimen of proper diet, exercise, sleep, etc. when using substitutes because our body’s natural production is often stimulated by the law of supply and demand. A mother’s milk is a clear example of how the body responds with an increase or decrease to specific stimulation. Without being stimulated, the body can cease making a chemical naturally and become increasing more dependent on a substitute. The goal should always be to get our body to its optimal function and performance naturally, and to do the things that will keep it there.
In the case of sleep deprived students, responding by delaying school start times is like cutting off one end of a blanket and sewing it on the other end in order to make it longer. A comprehensive BYOT plan can teach parents and students how technology can negatively impact health. Learning to avoid pitfalls positively contributes to the overall learning environment.
Adults are entrusted with a powerful stewardship. When we fail, we open the door to things that can have lifelong consequences on children, families, communities, and all of society. Being on the cutting edge of technology means being at the forefront of information, including emerging threats and dangers. It means making real time feedback, updates, resources, and warnings a highly visible priority within the system. This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that it sends a clear message to students that their safety and well being is our first priority
Every child advocate (and every parent and person in a school system ought to be an advocate) knows we must error on the side of protecting children. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Fortunately, it is never too late to start doing the right things. Let’s begin this school year by putting the health, welfare, and best interest of children first -ahead of selling more devices- by asking school districts to suspend any BYOT plan (code for “we don’t want to pay for it”) that does not align safely and age appropriately with the well being of students. Doing so will help secure a better future for them and for us all.