Sleeplessness, F.O.M.O., Stress: Could Smartphones Be Harming Our Students?

As with every new technological innovation, there are many advantages and disadvantages of mobile phones. In the ‘Pros’ category, these devices are versatile tools for communication and accessing unlimited amounts of information as well as coordinating projects over vast distances.

Despite the many ‘pros’ of mobile devices, these techy tools also have an extensive ‘Cons’ category that includes serious setbacks for the young, impressionable mind. At worst, mobile devices can affect healthy communication skills, sleeping habits and even make concentrating a very difficult task. 

Educational technology may be a great democratiser and offer a lot of educational potential. However, the negative consequences associated with the use of mobile devices are a threat to all, yet it is the teenaged demographic that is most susceptible. This is because the ‘Teen’ brain has not formed completely and is more sensitive to the prodding’s of peer pressure and the universal search for identity, for example. 

Technology is here to stay and will only advance both inside and outside of the classroom. We are dealing increasingly with the children of a technological age and need to adapt to it. We need to be aware that the balance of technology at home and further up school is vastly different from the one we should be striving for in our setting.”


The following is a list of some of the more serious consequences of mobile devices:


Impaired Concentration 

Studies on the dynamics of concentration have shown that refocusing after a distraction is the tough bit. Office workers who are interrupted from their activities (by a text message, phone call or such) can take as long as 25 minutes to refocus their mind on the task at hand.

This is why students who complete their homework in the company of their mobile devices can find concentration so difficult. The concept of ‘multi-tasking’ is completely absurd, the fact is the human mind can only lend its concentration to one task at a time, and it takes a lot of focus to switch back and forth between them.

Furthermore, it is not even necessary to be engaged in conversation or using the device for it to be a subtle distraction. For tasks that demand cognitive function and undivided attention, like concentrating on a task or lecture, the mere presence of a mobile device in the room can reduce the focus of the individual significantly.

Reduction of Quality Face-to-Face Interactions

Another fascinating study illustrated the effect of mobile devices on interaction with strangers. One group would have a conversation in the company of their mobile devices, the device being present on the table during the conversation. The other group had notebooks and pens.

The result was clear, those with the mobile devices present were less likely to make any sort of connection with the human beings in front of them. The really interesting thing about the study was that none of the participants noticed that the mobile device was pulling their attention or awareness at all, it is done subconsciously. In a classroom, where face to face interaction time with individual pupils is limited and also of the upmost importance, this can have a negative part to play on how we teach and how children learn.

Increased F.O.M.O. Levels

The ‘fear of missing out’ is one of the most debilitating fears that a teenager can experience. It is commonly characterized by needing to know what everyone is doing and if anyone is having more fun than you.

Mobile phones can be an especially bad influence on such teenagers who will often feel the urge to check their phones for messages and missed calls while studying.  As teachers we need to find ways to prevent this, whether this means heavy policing of preventing use in the classroom or more unconventional approaches described in this article.

Poor Sleep Patterns

Using these devices late into the evening can also lead to negative sleeping habits and poor quality sleep in less and less amounts. Why does mobile phone use affect sleep habits? Because the body begins to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin, at around 9:00pm each night.

The luminescent screen of a mobile device can trick the body into thinking that it is still day, thus suppressing the production of melatonin. This means that you will feel awake and alert right when you are supposed to be feeling sleepy.

Children with poor sleep patterns suffer from all sorts of consequences in terms of learning as this piece from Harvard shows. Memory in terms of acquisition, consolidation and recall are all impacted and this can have a big impact on how successful children are in the classroom. Of course it is impossible for teachers to make sure their students get enough sleep, but following these tips will help you rouse tired students when you feel they are disengaged with the lesson.

Increased Procrastination

Procrastination is a very common urge in students. As many as 75% of College Students in the US describe themselves as habitual procrastinators. When asked what activities they engage in after a procrastinating their responsibilities, they often respond with something done on a mobile device.

Texting, messaging, gaming and even shopping are constantly present and make far more engaging activities than the tasks at hand. Even if a mobile device will not turn a student into a procrastinator, it acts as a great facilitator. 

This paper on procrastination and mobile phone use examines behaviours in relation to mobiles and work, looking at gender, addiction and time usage. It’s a worthwhile read for teachers.

Increased Stress Levels

Reliance on mobile phones has also been found to be a contributor to poor psychological health. Over-use of these devices has been found to develop conditions of anxiety, impatience, frustration and irritation.

Studies on young people and their relations to their mobile devices showed that many would begin to feel agitated when kept away from their mobile device for too long. One study, of 19 - 24 year olds in the US, reported that they spend as much as 95 minutes texting, 49 min emailing and 39 min on social media each day, with young women seemingly more prone to developing addictions to their mobile device than young men.

‘Nomophobia’ is the term used to describe this addiction to a mobile phone and is characterized by the act of checking your phone even if no messages have been received. Studies have shown that adults who have become distracted by their mobile devices suffer a drop of ten IQ points, which is twice the drop experienced by ingesting cannabinoids.

Phones can potentially cause issues for users and though banning them in schools can be a contentious issue, it should be certainly considered.

If you have a better solution or have found something that worked at your school, please let us know on social media.


Author Bio

Cormac Reynolds has a strong interest in the changing face of education and writes for 11 Plus Tutors in Essex . In his spare time he likes country walks and rugby. 

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