WHEN KIDS TRY TO “BREAK THE TWITCH”

As a teacher (and an INFJ in general), I will always feel an overwhelming need to give my students skills necessary to take control and be present in their own lives rather than simply spend their days slouched in desk chairs, trying to conceal their phones in their laps. As I’ve been realigning my own priorities, which includes how much time I spend using technology, I felt the need to experiment…

(Sidenote: teachers know when you’re on your phone. No one looks down at his or her crotch and smiles. Nor does someone’s crotch light up intermittently sans some kind of rare, unknown medical problem.)

In honor of the launch of Anthony Ongaro’s Daily Action Course, I decided to ask my students to try to break the twitch. Anthony coined the phrase break the twitch and defines a twitch as “an impulse response to discomfort.” The response could be making impulse purchases on Amazon or eating in response to a stressful situation. For my students, their twitch involves 1) constantly looking at their phones and 2) constantly making excuses to look at their phones. Before beginning Anthony’s Daily Action Course last Monday, I asked my students to begin breaking this habit.

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Upon arrival to class, I now ask students to put their phones in my “parking lot,” which is a hanging chart typically used to store calculators. The baffled look on their faces the first day? Indescribable.

After the initial shock subsided, I told my students I could not force them to relinquish their phones. “You can keep it with you,” I explained, “but, if I see you checking it during class, we’ll use it to call someone at home and have a chat.” Slowly, a few stragglers made their way to the parking lot.

Honestly, I expected a much stronger reaction. That came later.

At least once during each 90-minute class period, a student asks to go to the bathroom. I now respond with, “Yes, but you have to leave your phone here.” On almost every occasion, the student pauses for a moment, gives me a look of bewilderment, and then sits back down.

One student had a particularly difficult time letting go of the impulse. When I told him he couldn’t take his phone to the bathroom, he stopped, mid-stride to the door, and said, “I…can’t leave my phone here.”

“You can if you really need to go to the bathroom.”

“You don’t understand! My phone…it’s…it’s a part of me!”

“It’s not the part of you that’s needed to use the bathroom.”

“Someone will steal it!”

“If you’re worried, I’ll lock it in my desk drawer.”

He sat back down and stared straight ahead. No eye contact. No comment. Five minutes later, he put his phone on his friend’s desk and speed-walked out of the room. I guess he really had to go…

It’s been two weeks since implementing the phone parking lot. I’ve had a few conversations with parents, and a few students are still trying to text on the toilet. But we’ve had a few breakthroughs as well.

Many of their withdrawal symptoms subside 30-45 minutes into the class period. Yes, withdrawal symptoms. Recent studies show that when self-proclaimed technology addicts attempt to quit their gadgets cold turkey, their physical and emotional symptoms mirror those documented in substance use like ecstasy and tobacco. In fact, the potential psychiatric condition, Internet Use Disorder, is currently being studied by the American Psychiatric Association for possible inclusion in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

However, in my classroom, students are forgetting to pick up their phone on the way out the door. It’s no longer the first thing they think about when the bell rings. Students park their phones and say, “Oh, I didn’t check Instagram this morning…” These twitches, impulses, pacifiers…they are subsiding, at least for 90 minutes of the day. And, for now, I’ll take it.

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