Every parent knows the challenge of trying to manage their child’s screen time. In the back of our heads lies the realization that unfettered access can’t be good, and yet instituting some type of routine that limits our children's screen time is like finding our way through a cornfield; we try this way and that way, but in the end, we don’t know where to turn. The evidence detailing the impact of rising screen time is out there, and as expected, it is not good. Jean M. Twenge, author of iGen, Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy-and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, references the startling research:
- Online time for students has nearly doubled since 2006.
- Social media sites have gone from being a daily activity of half of teens to almost all of them.
- The percentage of students who read books and magazines has plummeted.
- SAT scores since 2006 have slid since the 2000s.
- Face-to-face interaction among teens continues to decrease.
In 2017, a group of Rectory School administrators attended a 3-day conference at St Paul’s School entitled Empathy, Intimacy, and Technology in a Boarding School Environment. At the conference, participants explored the impact of technology on the emotional health of young people. Best of all, we heard directly from students about what their lives are like with mostly unfettered access to screen time. The feedback from students and other boarding school teachers and administrators, like Twenge’s research, was startling.
Rectory School has always been proactive about regulating our student’s screen time in and out of the classroom. To that end, we have been intentional in constructing a residential program that fosters peer-to-peer interaction and community. Throughout the week, students receive their academic technology (School-issued Chromebooks) before leaving their dormitories for breakfast; non-academic technology is passed out at 8:00 p.m. after the evening study hall. All technology is collected 15-30 minutes before bedtime. Students don't receive technology on the weekends until after the afternoon activity, allowing a good amount of tech-free time for them to visit with friends and play outside.
Twenge notes that the number of teens who get together with their friends every day has been cut in half in just fifteen years, with especially steep declines recently. The foundation of Rectory’s residential program is bringing students together where they can share their interests and interact without the distraction or impediment of technology.
Rectory parcels out activity time Friday through Sunday. During these blocks, students are prohibited from bringing technology.
Each Wednesday, students review weekend activity offerings, selecting those they would like to attend. Every activity block offers the opportunity to stay on campus to play in the gym, on the fields or student pavilion, and in the Wolf Den student lounge. The Scripps Auditorium of the P.Y. & Kinmay Tang Performing Arts Center is also typically open during activity blocks for an on-campus movie, karaoke, and games. This past weekend also included the following offerings:
Friday Dorm Activities with dormitory parents (6:30-8:00 p.m.)
- Dinner & a Movie in the Wolf Den
- Kindness Rocks Project & Pizza Party in the Art Barn
- DIY Mason Jar Decor
Saturday (1:30-3:00 p.m.) & (6:00-7:30 p.m.)
- UMASS vs Lowell hockey game
- Off-Campus Movie Trips
- Trip to Local Cafe
- Turkey Trot 5k
- Magic Card Tournament
- Walk to the Vanilla Bean
- Airline Trail Walk and Leaf Craft
- Board Games and a Movie in the Library
Rectory recognizes that left to their own devices (their technology), students are less inclined to meet and interact with their peers in person. According to Twenge, “the conclusion is inescapable: the Internet has taken over. Teens are Instagramming, Snapchatting, and texting with their friends more, and seeing them in person less.” Her research suggests that increased screen time has significant implications for a child’s mental health. Feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, being left out, anxiety, and depression have increased among teens as screen time has risen.
Liz Repking, the founder of Cybersafety Consulting, notes that when it comes to children in the digital age, experts all agree on one thing--kids are craving help, knowledge, and direction when it comes to all this stuff. At Rectory, we have created a learning and social environment where students are nurtured free of the pressure that comes with unfettered access to technology. As such, our students are learning to understand one another. They are learning the skills necessary for a healthy life--skills that have become lost in the digital age. Skills like empathy, compassion, communication, respect, and friendship-making are alive and thriving at Rectory because we provide students the time, guidance, and environment in which this can happen.