Concordia Lutheran High School

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Could you give up your smartphone for a year?

Vitamin Water recently announced a sensational contest: They invite one lucky person to give up their smartphone and tablet access for a year, and if successful, that person will win $100,000. Vitamin Water will give them a 1996-era Nokia cell phone that will make and receive calls. The goal is publicly break digital addictions, and (obviously) to publicize Vitamin Water.

Entrants use Twitter or Instagram to enter with the hashtags #NoPhoneforaYear #contest. As any self-respecting English teacher would, I read the rules in their entirety, and discovered at least half the entries already online are not eligible! They are misspelled, contain unoriginal content, or use the wrong hashtag. #n00bs

I also noticed a lot of entries that were basically identical:

“I’d use the $100K to pay off student loans pick me”

”I want to spend more time with my cute kids” (see cute kids picture)

Or my favorite, “I hardly use a smartphone so this will be easy pick me!”

Few of them stood out as “unique,” and I’m not sure how Vitamin Water would choose between them. There were a lot of teachers who posted that they want to set a good example for their students, and use the money to either pay off student loans or improve their teaching. I can tell you, $100K buys a LOT of professional development books and conference tickets.

I shared this Vitamin Water contest with my students, and they were supremely disappointed that you had to be at least 18 to enter. So then, I had an idea. An awful idea. A wonderful, terrible, awful idea.

What if ... I entered to be the big winner? BUT I dragged the kids with me?

MY PLAN

Instead of doing it alone, if selected, I will invite Concordia students to participate WITH me. And then I’ll write them checks out of the big $100K prize as scholarship money to incentivize their labors. Everyone needs scholarship money! What if a student could break their addiction, raise their grades, AND get money for college or postsecondary endeavors?

“But Mrs. Hoham, don’t we need our iPads for school?”

Here’s what I’m thinking: If a student wanted to participate, he or she would give up the smartphone and drop to a (MUCH CHEAPER) flip phone to call people. On iPads, they would delete all non-education apps — Snapchat, Instagram, Fortnite, etc. — and submit to weekly battery checks of their app usage to see if they violated those terms. If at the end of a year they were still alive, they would be eligible for scholarship dollars, to be determined by how many stayed in the pool.

Benefits to students (and me!):

Better communication: If you had to call everyone you wanted to talk to, you may have fewer relationships, but they will be stronger!

Better sleep: Check your student’s app usage (the new iOS update added a Screentime feature where you can see which apps were used and when). A LOT of student tech use happens after 10 PM.

Better self-control: My students check their phones on average 50-100 times a day. I know this because of the “pickups” the phone tracks. Most spend 4+ hours a week on their lockscreens, which is literally just pushing the home button to check their notifications — 5 seconds at a time.

Better mental health: There has been no study that suggests increased social media use is beneficial for a user, and many that suggest the opposite. Screentime is bad for our brains.

Random battery checks on my students’ devices indicate most students spent 10-12 hours per week on social media — one student clocked in 37 hours on Snapchat in the last 10 days!! Generally they average 2-3 hours of social media per day — even my AP students who have plenty of other academic responsibilities, and even on school days. It’s horrifying.

Now let’s say Vitamin Water doesn’t pick my entry from the 100,000-some already submitted. Which is likely.

It’s still a good idea to do battery checks on devices, and set limits. How many hours does your student spend on “frivolous” apps per week? How many hours do YOU spend on them? What would you rather be doing with your time?

I have yet to see a student have an academic app in the top 5 of their use (most popular order is Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, Fortnite). Pinterest and Twitter are up there as well. The Bible app usually draws about 1% of usage time.

I have a few students who tell me their parents set limits on their phones and iPads, but it’s definitely the minority. Most have access to their phones and iPads 24/7. Many students have Snapchat streaks* in the 100s (one AP student of mine has a streak going with a friend for over 800 DAYS).

So this Christmas season, set a new tradition: break a streak. Put your phones in another room. Enjoy celebrating the birth of Christ together. Make eye contact. Play a board game. Pray together for the new year.

Oh, and drink Vitamin Water.

Lizzy Hoham,
English Teacher

*A user starts a “streak” when she shares a Snap with the same person every day. Kids pride themselves on their “streaks.” I tried to explain to them that this means Snapchat knows where they have been every day for the last X number of days — the app needs GPS location to work. So my AP student with the class record? Snapchat knows where she’s been every day for the last 2.5 YEARS. Santa Claus doesn’t have to watch out anymore; social media does his job for him.