North Star Academy Principal Kendra Hossfeld doesn’t allow students to take cellphones out of their backpacks at school, but she can’t keep the effects of technology and social media out of the hallways.
Some children came to school feeling left out after seeing pictures of friends hanging out on Instagram. Others complain that their Snapchat streaks aren’t as long as those of their friends.
“I was tired of kids leaving at the end of the day then getting on social media and starting drama,” she said. “We’d have to deal with it here the next day,”
A parent approached her, concerned about the amount of time her child spent on social media over the winter break, and Hossfeld decided to look into the issue.
She read research that found social media notifications cause a release of dopamine, the chemical that causes feelings of pleasure, in the brain. Other studies found that prolonged device use can negatively impact impulse control and the ability to concentrate.
Then she logged in to social media sites herself, and saw “unhealthy communication” that didn’t reconcile with what she knew about children.
“Face to face they’re doing all these great things,” she said. “But behind the screen they’re not as sensitive.”
In January, Hossfeld presented a challenge to eighth-graders at the K-8 Parker charter school — to go without social media and video games for a week and journal their thoughts and feelings during that time.
Hossfeld estimated half of the students were successful, some reduced their use by about half, and others didn’t last a day. The point, she said, was to make them aware of how much they depend on the devices, and to that end, they succeeded.
“I learned that I spend a lot of time on my phone and social media,” said eighth-grader Tyanna Fox, who said she went from being on her phone between two and three hours a day to about one hour.
Her volleyball teammates teased her, Fox said, but she didn’t waver.
“I just told them that we are all on our phones way too much,” Fox said. “Way more than we think we are.”
Not all parents were on board with the challenge at first, according to eighth-grader Cole Brownjohn, whose father works in computer sales. Still, he said his parents came around when they noticed a change in his disposition.
“They both said I was a lot less snarky,” he said.