Editorial: Digital Disruption

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There is no question that the use of smartphone technology is pervasive and in many ways an intrinsic part of life not just in this country, but worldwide, for better and for worse. It has infiltrated most aspects of life — from how we socialize and communicate to information gathering and basic day-to-day scheduling.

A generation ago, only a small percentage of the population had access to cell phones, while today most adults — and many children — carry a personal computer in the form of a phone, complete with apps and games, social media access, movies and television shows, all available with the touch of a finger and almost always located within reach.

The reality is that these devices are not going away and with study after study showing how addictive they can be for adults and children alike, it is incumbent on parents who allow their children and teens access to this technology to monitor their use. In addition to children becoming vulnerable to abuse, predatory behavior and bullying when engaged with online apps, games and other forms of social media, excessive screen time in any form has been linked to obesity. The social implications are hard to ignore when lunch and recess periods during school hours — a time forphysical activity and socialization traditionally — can consist of students largely communicating with each other via devices.

On the flip side, technology and the easy digital access smart phones and tablets offer their users has opened up a world of filmmaking, photography, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) exercises, music, literature, astronomy and an encyclopedia of information on virtually every subject under the sun, some of which were cost prohibitive in the pre-digital universe. Harnessed properly, this is an incredible tool that every member of the family can benefit from, and learning limitations and boundaries is an essential skill all children in this world are going to need to master.

At school, of course, parents have little control over how much time their children are engaged on their phones and in what capacity — the time allowed for cell phone use is different in each school district. Districts across the country are engaged in debates over what the best practice is for cell phone use during school hours, particularly for students during arguably the most challenging years of social development — middle school.

The Sag Harbor School District is considering its own policy for its middle school, continuing a debate that has literally spanned years when it comes to cell phone access during school hours. Currently, middle school children have access to their phones, which they can keep on their person, during lunch, and with teacher permission, during academic support. Some parents are calling for greater restrictions, looking at the East Hampton School District’s “No Display During the Day” policy, which allows students to carry their phones but not display them at all, even during lunch and academic support. The only time they would be allowed to use them is if a teacher wants to employ them for instruction.

This doesn’t seem unreasonable or overly restrictive — especially for middle school students. If caught displaying a phone, the device is taken and parents must pick them up — a sharp and effective consequence. It also allows children, and they are still children, the chance to socialize with each other during lunch periods, rather than talk through messaging or Snapchat, or play video games together on apps. The reality is that even having these devices in your pocket can be extremely distracting, and not just for children, but also for adults. At school, access needs to be limited, not only to ensure that students can focus on tasks in the classroom, but also to give them a chance to continue to be kids in a world that, more and more, demands they grow up at faster pace than most of us would like.

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