May 19, 2023

On the Minds of Middle Schoolers

On the Minds of Middle Schoolers

Earlier this week, I got to go back to middle school.

From 2003-2015, I taught middle school and I’m not ashamed to say: I love this age group. Not everyone feels the same way– when I’d tell people I was a 7th grade teacher, they’d say, “Oh, I’m sorry!” 

But I loved it.

7th graders are the middle child of the middle school years. They’re no longer little kids, but they haven’t quite bought into the “too cool to care” phase that seems to envelop 8th graders. Seventh graders still sleep with stuffed animals and like their teachers (mostly) even though they’re simultaneously trying on all kinds of identities and having crushes, too.

On Tuesday, I was invited back to a local Catholic school to speak to the students. The last time I’d met with this group was pre-COVID…and a lot has changed since.

Like I do with all my talks, I surveyed the audience beforehand, using both multiple choice and short answer options.

This group may not be representative of every middle schooler in the country, but two things were very, very clear from the data:

  1. These kids are stressed out. Mostly with homework and projects and tests, and it is Spring, when these things come to a head, but wow, they expressed that over and over again.

  2. These kids– like so many of their peers– do like their technology. But they were also more aware than I would have given them credit for in terms of the safety issues that come with being online. I was impressed.

Some of the stats didn’t surprise me, like 81% of 6th-8th graders have a smartphone. But 70% also said that screens are “often or always a distraction” and almost half slept with their phones in their room at night.

(Though parents are often way worse about this– 95% of the last parent group I spoke with admitted keeping their phone in their rooms at night. I know it’s your alarm clock. But an alarm clock also works. And is cheaper. And isn’t internet-connected. Just saying…)

These kids are also spending a lot of time on screens– three-quarters said they are spending 2+ hours per day on screens for schoolwork, and another one-third said they are spending 4 or more hours a day on screens for fun.

For the high end of both of those groups, that is six hours a day– outside of school hours and sleep– that kids are spending on a device. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for other important experiences– like family, friends, school, sleep, sports, chores, being bored…

There are distinct challenges that come with schools issuing devices, but one obvious one to me from this data is that screens for school adds to the amount of time kids are spending on screens for entertainment or socialization.

In fact, one parent recently said to me, “My kid would have about ten hours less of screentime per week if he didn’t have to do his homework on a computer.” 

Truth.

We can’t– and won’t– solve all these issues at once. But being aware of the realities is definitely a good first step. 

And listening to kids about their experiences is part of that.

While many of the survey answers were exactly what I expected from this age group (“We want more screentime!”, “The school should allow us to have our phones all the time!”, etc.), there were also some very poignant observations that I believe are worth sharing here:

“People are too addicted to their devices and are not as present.”

“I kinda just wish no one had a phone and it was like the old days.”

“Screens give me entertainment when I am feeling down.”

“Screens are a big distraction to me when I am doing homework.”

“I don’t like the sadness I feel when I see (online) that my friends are hanging out without me.”

“One of the things I like least about technology is being overwhelmed by the social aspect of having a phone.”

Talking to these students made me feel hopeful, in spite of how stressed and overwhelmed they are. 

After the talk, several students came up to ask me questions or share an observation. One teacher approached me to say, “That was absolutely fantastic!” 

Will one talk change the world? Probably not.

But speaking to these future adults with compassion, humor, and empathy will allow them to feel seen and heard. It will allow the adults to hear that the kids are also overwhelmed (though teachers: I see you).

It gives us a chance to approach a near-universal challenge as a team, rather than adversaries.

Thanks, middle schoolers, for sharing your experiences and listening. 

As my favorite teacher always said to us at the end of class, and what I then repeated at the end of all of my classes: it was an honor and a privilege to be your teacher today.

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Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.