Lost without them: students report on the presence of smartphones in their lives

Students often play games and talk to their friends during class. While walking through the school hallway, many have their eyes on their phones.  Photos by Xavius Tran

Students often play games and talk to their friends during class. While walking through the school hallway, many have their eyes on their phones. Photos by Xavius Tran

By Amaea Brown, Eddie Beamon, Xavius Tran, Andrianna Bynum, Dontayeah Hill, Taiyana Richmond, Timya Carlisle, Frank Blount,  Alanna Smith,  Imari Vaughn, and DeShawn Davis North High Student Reporters 

Many teens spend almost every hour of every school day on their phones. In our North High journalism class, 15 students submitted their screen time data for a week. The class average was six hours and 36 mins per day. Many students spent over nine hours on their phones per day. One spent eleven hours and 45 minutes

 “Teens are way too addicted to their phones,” said freshmen Rayvon Hicks.

“I be feeling naked without my phone. …I just like knowing it’s there.” said freshman Joy Cunningham. 

Snapchat is the app that teens report using most. “Mainly when people are talking to each other they are on their phones doing Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat,” said freshmen Kenneth Van Mieghem. 

“Nowadays everything revolves around our phones. Now I know that some kids do go outside and play basketball, but the first thing they do when they get done is go to their phones,” said Hicks.

THE EDUCATIONAL IMPACT

A newsletter sent to North High parents in January says the school enforces the district’s phone policy. The policy is that cell phone use is limited to before and after school, during lunch, during passing time, during class only when the teacher permits it for educational purposes, and only during the school day for personal purposes by permission from the school permission or the principal’s designee. “The short answer is it’s supposed to be for educational purposes. If it’s not for educational purposes, then it has no place in school,” said Assistant Principal Steve White.

But White says that North High does not “follow that policy entirely at the moment.” He says almost every teacher has a slightly different approach to handling phone use in their classrooms.

AP US History Teacher Tom Lachermeier gets creative. Instead of telling students to get off their phones, he throws paper balls at them if they have their phones out.

“Students get irritated with ‘put your phone away, put your phone away, put your phone away.’ Most of them think it’s funny and put their phones away,” he said. He also gives extra credit to students who turn in their phones at the beginning of class. “They’re more focused in class and not on their phones.”

“If the phone is completely away, you won’t have temptations,” he said. When phones are out, students miss things in class. “Students will ask a question and all the other people will be like ‘we just went over that.’” said Lachermeier.

Lachermeier says he tries not to take it personally when students are on their phones during his lessons. “I don’t think anyone is trying to personally disrespect me,” he said. “It is frustrating when you teach something and students are asking questions about something you literally just went over.”

“In an ideal world, students make good choices with their phones. Anytime you force someone to do something, it’s difficult. In general, making more rules does not help. But the flip side is that sometimes people don’t always make good choices for themselves,” said Lachermeier. 

North High student Mohamad Mohamad says his daily screentime average is just under nine hours per day. "I use it a lot throughout the day, but I can use it responsibly. During class I mainly listen to music with it. I don’t use anything else because it can be distracting and stop me from learning and lose participation points during class. I feel like I use it more responsibly compared to other students," he said.

White is concerned about the impact phones have on learning at the high school. “This is the single biggest wrecker of learning in the school,” he said. “Other Minneapolis schools have gone from where we are to full implementation of [the district's policy]. It’s been a little bouncy at first but they come through it. They come through it and everybody is better for it.” 

Despite his frustration, Lachermeier is empathetic: “I know there are times when I should be paying attention at home or at church and I have my phone out.”

Others say that being on their phone during school is helpful to their education. “Listening to music. It helps me get my work done,” said Cunningham.

Student teacher Felicia Kelly sees phone use in school as helpful and harmful. “It depends on the application. ...If you use it for Kahoot or if you do research or you need to do something, it can help. But it can also be hard if [students] just listen to music or watch videos. When they’re distracted they’re only taking in about 10% of what’s going on in front of the class. It’s harmful,” she said.

THE SOCIAL INFLUENCE

Teens say anything can happen on social media: good days are ruined by people posting negative things and cyberbullying. Here at North High School, school social media is an amplifier for conflict. People have been killed because of negative things people say on social media. Students feel the obligation to comment, like, or share on their friends' posts or photos. Students get upset when people don’t "heart" their photos. If someone likes a post instead of "hearting" it, drama may occur. Some students feel like to be a good friend they have to heart, comment, or share their friends post. This requires students to spend a lot of time on their phones during school. 

Having a cellphone can have a good and bad effect on people. “You can get on social media and see things that make you feel better; kids get compliments on their pictures and it makes them feel like they are all that,” said North High Behavior Dean Lamar Wright.

However, social media can have positive impacts too. It connects people. Music and funny videos cheer students up and keep them focused.  “Snapchat distracts me from everybody else, like it calms me, cause you can watch videos and the memes on there keep you calm to relieve stress.," said junior Deja Milton.

Social media can distract a person from focusing on what they want to do and what they need to get done. Sometimes students use social media to hide their inner emotions. 

Kenzie O'Keefe