June 13, 2024
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June 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

JEC High School Faces Cell Phones Head On

The world is changing. It is moving faster than ever. Advances in technology have made our lives immeasurably more efficient and comfortable. Yet each innovation brings new challenges that need to be faced with reality and thoughtfulness.

Adults continue to grapple with the pace at which technology has crept into every aspect of our lives. Emails, texts and updates ‘ding’ into even our most precious moments, disrupting our relationships with our children, spouses, colleagues and even ourselves. Just ‘being’ seems no longer possible. For adults, the research is clear––multitasking produces less clear and accurate results that are devoid of depth, thought and attention..

But our children are facing an even greater challenge. For them, technology has not slowly encroached on their lives, it has been a ubiquitous part of their world from the very start. And the data is even more dramatic. According to the research, the minds of our pre-teens and adolescents are still developing, connections are still being made and cognitive and developmental processes are still being formed. In many instances, the incessant use of technology disrupts that development and children can become young adults who lack basic the cerebral skills and social-emotional ability to navigate the world. As communities, schools and parents, we must do more to help our kids develop in a healthy and balanced manner.

For years, the greater Jewish educational community has been grappling with student use of technology. Many schools have attempted to fully integrate technology into every discipline and program. Others have students check-in their phones before class. Others have sought to break students free from their ‘addiction’ to their phones by banning the devices from their buildings altogether. We have found that most initiatives end with administrators engaging in an exhausting game of cat-and-mouse where students creatively end-round any efforts to enforce the latest phone policy.

At JEC, our philosophy is to educate our students with respect and understanding of their reality. It is our belief that at no time except on Shabbat do we expect members of our community to restrict phone use from early morning to evening. The reality is that most of us use our phones to communicate and to interact with the world, and this is exponentially more true for our children and teenagers.

After examining, testing and considering multiple models, and having meaningful discussions with teachers, parents and students, we decided to remove the eliminate the struggle and join together to create a higher culture of learning and respect in our school. Our policy is now quite simple: During class time, all student phones are held in designated phone lockers. Period. End of story.

During breakfast and lunch, the proverbial gates are opened, and students are allowed to use their phones. And that’s it. The results? Student engagement—in class and with each other—is up. Presence in the halls is down (not to mention the incidents of injury due to students accidentally walking into one another). Students’ stress and social-emotional challenges are more readily accessible and resolvable.

Quite simply, it is a different school. It feels different, it sounds different and students, faculty and administration alike all recognize that something positive is happening. There is no more buzzing in pockets, no more looking beneath the desk at a lit-up screen, and no more worrying about what just came in—again, and again and again. We have helped our students remove the cause of this struggle. Our students come in to class without having to fight with themselves about putting their phones away or trying to maybe ‘get away with’ breaking a rule. They come to class ready to go.

The best part of this approach: The students are all on board. In quiet corners and soft undertones, so many have ‘admitted’ that they are better off without their phones throughout the day. They have actually thanked us for liberating them from the social and psychological prisons that their phones create. There is now freedom in their lives.. Freedom to interact with one another. Freedom to focus. Freedom to daven. Freedom to play sports and be active during gym class. Freedom to just be.

If this approach of working together to carve out time when our phones are put away and we are free to interact with the people and world around us has changed the culture of our school, just imagine what it could do for our homes. Imagine homework time where parent and child are phone free. Imagine a family dinner where there are no outside distractions. Imagine modeling the balancing of our priorities for and with our spouses and families. Imagine freeing ourselves to focus on one thing or one person without the ding or buzz echoing in the background. Imagine a life where we are free, for even just a brief time, to just be.

Perhaps then, our children too will—in the quiet corners and in soft undertones—thank us.

By Rabbi Ami Neuman

 

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