Put Your Phone Away
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[Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s, and not necessarily representative of The Willistonian staff.]
Last winter after a hockey game at Northfield Mt. Hermon, I stayed on campus to have dinner with my friend. Right away, I could tell there was something different in the dining hall. Students were having passionate conversations, involving each other in discussions, and talking about their day. Why were these kids at NMH so engaged? I couldn’t put my finger on it until I realized no one was texting, sending snapchats, or looking at Instagram. No one had his or her phone out.
Students at NMH are prohibited from using their cellphone during meals, and the students don’t seem to mind. NMH is not alone in this policy. Deerfield students can’t use phones in the dining hall; in fact most of the campus is cellphone-free. Middlesex has a strict no phones policy, too, where cellphones are only allowed in dorm rooms. The Middlesex handbook says, “It is important to our community that we continue to invest in the strength of our face-to-face relationships, and we encourage students to leave their cell phones in their rooms or at least, in their backpacks and not use them during the course of the school day.”
At Williston, the policy is students cannot use their phones in the dining hall for verbal communication, meaning they can’t talk on the phone. But teenagers these days rarely use their phones to call people, making this rule pointless. Williston students are sucked into their social media feeds, holding their phone in front of their face while they eat. A full table at lunch is silenced by the lure of the iPhone. Texting, snapping, and “liking” all take precedent over real human interactions and conversation at meal times.
Williston’s cell phone rule is not even enforced. Ms. Jenna Motyka, coordinator of student services, said that in her four years working in the dean’s office she has never seen a unit for phone use in the dining hall. Even some faculty and administrators are devicing during meals.
Using a cell phone during a meal is bad manners. Not only is it horrible etiquette, and shows disrespect to whoever you are with, it has negative physiological and psychological effects.
A Pew Research Center survey found that 88% of respondents believe it is not okay to be on a cellphone during meals. Another study reported that half the participants, ages 18-34, would be happier if they used their cell phone less.
Teen depression hits girls hardest, and phones are partly to blame, according to an NPR article by Patti Neighmond. In addition, scientists found that the rate of depression among teens has increased significantly from 2005, with half a million more depressed teens. Social media and online connections exacerbate the problem, as girls tend to measure their self-worth with the number of likes and comments.
Besides psychological effects, eating with a screen leads to weight gain. “Distracted” eating makes people eat more because they are not paying attention to the food or how full they are, according to Medical Daily.
Having a phone at school does not benefit academics. According to an article in the Guardian published May 16, 2015, after schools banned mobile phones, the test scores of 16-year-old students improved by 6.4%.
Clutching phones like security blankets, students cut themselves off from what is going on around them and can’t connect with others. Students are on their phones during their free periods, in between class, and even in class. People don’t say hi when they walk past each other because they are too absorbed in their phone, or at least pretend they are to avoid interaction.
They Snapchat their friend who is sitting right next to instead of talking to them in real life. We are all in a group together, but everyone looks at their phone for engagement. The problem is it is contagious: when one person whips it out, the others are forced to grab their phone to give them something to do. Imagine being a guest or a prospective student at Williston, looking in the dining hall and everyone is preoccupied with a device.
Phones during meals creates a lonely, down-headed culture. Williston should join most other boarding schools and get rid of phones in the dining hall. Engage with the people next to you instead of turning to your device. Snapchat and Instagram can wait.