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Addiction, as we all know, can be a difficult thing to deal with. We hear often about addiction to drugs, alcohol, etc. People who are drawn to unhealthy habits can have a hard time breaking those addictions and often will enter programs to help with the process.

But we may have a new and frightening addiction on our hands: screens. Children and adults alike are addicted to technology, be it an iPad, a smart phone, or even the television. For many years, some have referred to the TV as the “boob tube,” insinuating that too much time watching shows will numb your brain and/or turn it to mush. I remember a class when I was in middle school where we had to figure out how many hours of television we watched in a week. This was in the late ‘80s, even before the proliferation of cable networks, and the kids in my class averaged about 25 hours a week!

What do you suppose it is now? A year ago, the Nielsen Company did a study of viewing habits. People over the age of 50 average 50 hours a week, 35-49 watch between 36-37 hours a week, 25-34 watch between 26-27 hours a week, and it lessens from there. However, this does not count the amount of time spent on other screens. The scary number is this: in 2016, the amount of time people spent consuming media of any kind was over 10 hours on average per day.

Nicholas Kardaras wrote a column for The New York Post last year that compared screens to heroin as far as the addictive qualities. He cited stories of children who physically attacked people who took their devices away from them. That seems extreme, but just think about it. If you are typical of Americans today, and someone took away all your devices, how would you feel? I would guess that many of you, including me, would find it difficult to go too long that way.

As I write my first draft, I’m on level 2479 of Candy Crush. That’s insane, I know. Who plays a game that long? Yet there are many who claim the people who develop much of our social media find ways to make things addictive. One study showed that the average person checks their smart phone 150 times a day. That’s over six times an hour, and that’s only if you stay up all night! It’s probably closer to every five minutes or so.

Parts of our brain enjoy it when we receive compliments. So the “Like” function on so many social media platforms keeps bringing us back to see how many people liked our Facebook post, our tweet, or our Snap Story. Passing a new level on Candy Crush, especially if it’s taken me more than one day, is gratifying. These programmers have us figured out, don’t they?

I watch the kids in school between classes. The instant the bell rings, many of them have their phones out, checking all the recent messages, texts, tweets, posts, etc. There’s a lot to catch up on in the three-minute passing time! Plus, they have to get to their next class! I confiscated a phone recently after it was being used in class. I kept it at my desk the rest of the day and should have counted how many times it buzzed while sitting there. It’s shocking it didn’t vibrate right off my desk!

I’ve long been a proponent of 1:1 device management in schools. I believe that this is the way our world is, and we need to continue to work to teach our children how to properly use technology. But it does get frightening when you realize how many hours kids likely sit and watch stupid YouTube videos instead of trying something like, oh say, reading a new novel. So are schools across the nation and the world contributing to the problem?

Some people claim it is so big a problem that they search for ways to go back to paper and pencil work. If we simply took out all the devices in our schools, would our students go into withdrawal problems, especially if we allowed absolutely no phones to be used from the start of the day to the end? Could you go the whole day at your job without ever checking your phone or social media?

I think it’s too late to go back on this. We have to find ways to mediate the amount of time starting at screens, but I’m guilty in my own classroom of making kids use their devices most of the time. I make very few copies anymore since I can send work to them digitally. I recently asked the students to take out a piece of paper to write some poetry, and one student commented that she wasn’t sure she remembered how to write with a pencil. A bit of hyperbole for sure, but perhaps not too far from the truth.

I had good intentions of making my own kids get off their screens more last summer, but failed. I need to do a better job of that, and hopefully the very full calendar will help with that. We have many things to enjoy outside of cat videos and games where you smash candy. It’s not that we can never enjoy those things, but maybe getting more exercise or reading more books will help prolong our lives instead of give us long-lasting issues with our eyes, and thumbs that end up at weird angles after too long on a smart phone.

As far as Candy Crush, I’m sure I’ll continue with my addiction. But I could quit any time I wanted to. Really, I could.


Word of the Week: This week’s word is gemutlich, which means cozy and comfortable, as in, “The gemutlich atmosphere created by the falling rain outside provided an opportunity to binge watch some Netflix.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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