“For a Catholic school, that is a bad paradigm to fall into because it takes a rightly formed person to undertake the task of human formation, which is the mission of Catholic education,” he said. “No machine or technological tool can appropriately engage in the formation of the soul.”
Jean Twenge is a psychologist and the author of “iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”
Twenge told CNA that her research found the “sweet spot” for screen time for teenagers should be about 2 hours per day “for mental health, happiness, and adequate sleep. Beyond that, the risks increase, topping out at the highest levels of use.”
Notably, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, most US teens report average daily screen times well over the recommended two hours.
In 2015, research group Common Sense Media reported that more half of US teenagers spend at least four hours a day on a screen, while 25 percent of teens reported even higher uses - more than eight hours daily - with the potential of detrimental effects.
“For example, teens who use electronic devices 5 or more hours a day are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those using devices less than an hour a day,” Twenge said. “They are also 51% more likely to not sleep enough. Teens who are online 5 or more hours a day are twice as likely to be unhappy as those online less than an hour a day.”
As for educational impacts, research has also found that smartphones can impact a person’s ability to think simply by being within reach - even if they are turned off. Another study found that students taught in computer-less classrooms performed significantly better on tests than their counterparts taught in classrooms with iPads and computers.
The human, relational and educational concerns are why some Catholics schools are taking steps to limit, if not completely ban, the use of smartphones and iPads in the classroom.
St. Benedict Elementary in Natick, Mass. is one Catholic school that has taken the approach of not using electronic technology in the classroom at all, except for very limited ways in the higher grades.
Jay Boren, headmaster of St. Benedict, told CNA that this is because the classical academy was founded by parents who had a desire for their school to be different.
“There are studies that show that (student) memory retention is better when they have written the information as opposed to having typed it. There are also benefits to learning cursive,” Boren said.
“In addition, an environment that is not inundated with fast-paced technology...allows students to cultivate the ability to sustain attention, develop concentration, and appreciate silence, which are the necessary dispositions to ponder truth, beauty, and goodness. We feel that those skills, are more important at this age level than mastering a screen that they will certainly be exposed to throughout their life at other times.”
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On the other hand, Fr. Nicholas Rokitka, OFM Conv., teaches at Archbishop Curley High School in Buffalo, New York, which implemented a 1-to-1 iPad to student program four years ago.
“My major concern about technology in the classroom is the inability of the students to focus on the topic at hand and listen to the teacher,” Rokitka told CNA. “It certainly has changed the way teachers and students interact.”
Rokitka said that games and entertainment are always a potential distraction with the iPads in the classroom. While he has his room set up in a way that allows him to monitor his students’ iPad use closely, such monitoring “takes up a lot of my energy.”
There have been some positive impacts, Rokitka noted - the school has saved a lot of paper using digital homework and tests, and performance trends can be more quickly and easily recognized and addressed.
However, he added that without intentionality behind its use, technology negatively change the way students relate to one another and the world.
“On a very fundamental level, technology changes how people interact with each other. If technology is accepted wholesale without and intention, it will do more harm than good. When digital communication and social media replace face-to-face interaction, the students lose their ability to communicate,” he said. “This problem is way larger than just schools, but ultimately teachers and schools can have a dramatic input on how children learn how to use technology.”