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Eighth-graders try going tech-free: St. Matthew students say two-week challenge led to more time
November 22, 2013, 05:00 AM By Angela Swartz Daily Journal

Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
From left, Savannah Patrick, Maddie Hughes, Angelo Tonas and Meghan Mercurio, eighth graders at St. Matthew Catholic School, participated in a two-week technology free challenge and each kept a journal of their experiences.

Constant connectivity to the Internet and devices led one San Mateo school to offer a two-week technology free challenge to its eighth grade class.

The challenge, which wraps up today, was born out of the idea that children are looking for more boundaries and good examples set around them to manage their engagement with technology. Students voluntarily chose to give up cellphones, iPads, iTouches, video games, social media sites, texting, Snapchat, Instagram, music videos and other outlets for 12 days. Music, regular television, movies and class movies were allowed.

Heidi Lancaster, a parent of four children who attend the school, came up with the idea and said it has been relaxing for her eighth-grade daughter who feels less phone-related anxiety.

“A lot of parents give their children phones to get a hold of our kids, but it’s become this huge social media thing,” she said. “They’re just on it all the time. I wanted them to see what it’s like not to have it.”

Twenty-eight eighth graders ultimately opted into the 12-day challenge, which was organized by school counselor Denise Uhl, who had each of the students choose a goal to accomplish during the challenge. The school surveyed eighth graders and found 63 percent admitted to spending too much time on their cellphone and social media sites. Eighty-four percent admitted they do not like it when their friends and family are on their cellphones when together. Eighty-two percent admitted they have an average amount of rules and need more rules from their parents around technology use.

Some parents have become dependent on getting in touch with their children at any time, said Principal Nancy Arnett. Students are losing socialization skills through the constant use of their phones and computers though, she said.

“They don’t know how to have a conversation,” she said. “Listening scores are down and there’s no undivided attention anymore. It’s affecting the way children learn and how their brains function.”

Students say they’ve seen many positive impacts on their lives.

Student Savannah Patrick said the challenge has been harder for her mom than it was for her since her mom always wants to be on time. One day, Patrick’s peer tutoring went overtime and her mom really wanted to be able to call her.

“Without cellphones, you want to slow down,” she said. “She (her mother) learned it’s not that important. There’s the 15-minute rule.”

The 15-minute rule is waiting to call and use technology to get in touch for 15 minutes, said Uhl. It delays the panic and helps people slow down, she added.

Student Angelo Tonas said he ended up being able to spend more quality time with his younger brother by playing basketball with him rather than spending time on his phone.

Patrick described the “Fear of Missing Out” phenomenon, which she experienced. Checking Instagram constantly she would feel like she was missing out when she would see her friends having fun together in their posts.

“[The challenge] gives you the chance to not feel so out of the loop,” she said.

Being off her phone, student Meghan Mercurio noticed the bright screens of her mom and brother’s cellphones during a movie night. She ultimately was surprised by how much extra time she had without her phone.

Student Maddie Hughes even completed a painting during the challenge. She said the challenge was harder than she thought it would be, but it was also a relief because she had more time to do things she didn’t have time to do when she was always on her phone. She even said she learned street smarts one day when she had to track down her dad without a phone.

Hughes’ mother Kim Hughes, a volunteer at the school, said she noticed Maddie has been much more present since the challenge began.

In fact, Uhl said many of the kids have been spending more time doing productive activities such as cooking and seeing their grandparents.

Eighth grade teacher Lisa Vocker has been participating in the challenge herself and mainly has tried to not use technology in front of her four kids.

“The students are more connected with each other,” Vocker said. “Their attention spans are better, they’re calmer. It’s impacting the whole class since most of their friends are using [technology].”

Vocker hopes that students’ habits will be better after the challenge is over.

The program has been contagious to non-participating students as well, said Uhl. The school is thinking of expanding the challenge to the sixth and seventh grades. Students will be celebrating the end of the challenge at Rockin’ Jump in San Carlos tonight.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105



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