Want More Tech-Savvy Kids: Stop Fighting Technology

Tamara Fyke

I have a crazy idea. What if we stopped fighting technology? Instead of punishing our students for bringing their phones to class, what if we allowed their phones? 

I asked my college-aged son his opinion about my idea. He’s an expert, since he’s almost done with his K-20 journey. He pondered my suggestion and then said, “It won’t work.”

“Why?” I wondered, convinced that I was onto something.

“Well, there will be people who will stay on their phones the whole time. "His point was that they wouldn’t listen and learn.

“But what if the reason kids are on their phones so much in school is because they are not allowed to have them?” I continued.

He nodded his head then added, “Like alcohol. Kids want it because they are not allowed to have it.”

“Yes, so what if they were allowed to have their phones and encouraged to offer solutions for their classwork with their technology? In college and in the workplace, we are not restricted from using our phones. Don’t kids need to learn how to manage their phone usage?” I asked.

“That might work…if they knew how to use them properly,” he offered.

“How can they learn to use them properly?” I probed.

“At home… or just by being taught,” he concluded.

Throughout the twists and turns of our dialogue, he confirmed what we all know: the reason students don’t pay attention in class, especially boys, is because they are bored.  When they are bored, they get into trouble. So, what can we do to increase engagement and, thereby, decrease problem behavior? The proposed solution my son and I have is to give students the opportunity, starting in middle school, to select a course of study based on interest and aptitude.  

My two big takeaways from my conversation with my son were:

1. Teach social skills. – Let’s have the conversations with our students about Respect, which means valuing ourselves and others, and Courtesy, which is thinking of others first; minding our manners.  Remember, students want to know “the why”. Therefore, we need to provide clear examples of appropriate phone use. For example, we wait to use our phones until after we check-out at the register because we want to be respectful and courteous to the cashier who is another human being, and we want to be responsible with our financial transaction, making sure that we pay the correct amount and receive the correct change.

As we build rapport with our students about the practicalities of phone usage, then we can expand the conversation to include the classroom. Keep in mind, just telling students that they need to listen because it will be on the test is not motivating. They will find work-arounds, using their “resources” to pass the test. For example, we listen attentively to what our teacher says because we will learn something new. For all of us, true learning occurs when we consider new ideas and information and it changes us and how we see or interact with our big world. Let’s introduce them to their power to change the world.

2.  Be open to students. – Our students are consuming vast amounts of information for educational, entertainment, and social purposes each day.  Not only do they consume this content, but they interact with it through gaming, social media, and content creation.  Our role as educators is constantly changing, and I strongly believe that our frustration stems from trying to retain control of our students and our classrooms. Newsflash:  we are not in control!  Instead, we need to see ourselves as facilitators and coaches, providing guidance to our students as they work toward both prescribed and personal goals. 

Yes, I know what I am proposing may seem a bit outlandish. However, since our job is to prepare our students to be successful now, and in the future, we need to create environments that are more like a coffeeshop and less like a prison. As we partner with our students to help them accomplish their goals, rather than waiting for them to make a mistake, I believe we will see greater engagement because they know we care and we are giving them the grace and space to maximize their interests, aptitudes, and ideas. 


About the Author


Tamara Fyke is an educator and creative entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator, author, and brand manager for Love In A Big World, which equips K-8 educators with a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that is both research-based and practical, and also provides the supporting resources necessary to empower students to be socially competent, emotionally healthy problem-solvers who discover and maintain a sense of purpose and make a positive difference in the world.

Tamara is editor of Building People: Social & Emotional Learning for Kids, Schools & Communities, a book that brings 12 wide-ranging perspectives on SEL to educators, parents, and leaders. Follow her on Twitter .



Recent Articles


Insufficient access to reliable Internet connections and devices remains a significant issue in communities across the United States

John Harrington
News Clip

AASA report outlines path to systemic change in public education by 2025 | Colorado could get a state-level early childhood agency | State budget to bring a long-awaited windfall for NYC schools | Survey: Even as schools reopen, many students learn remotely


Technological advances that once only existed in the realm of science fiction are now more tangible than ever before, drawing interest from students across the world

Nhon Ma