School iPads & ADHD

Many schools have started Initiatives by where students are being given iPad or Tablets to use for the school year. For some this is a blessing, but for some, it is a curse. School iPads & ADHD is not a good mix.

At one of my schools, this move provoked a series of parent conferences throughout the year regarding a drop in grades, and a lowering of attention and focus.

I myself ended up having to order my students to keep their iPads in their backpacks during class to help them focus on my fascinating lesson.
When asked, the students readily shared their personal distress as their previous academic success slipped away. They also shared with me, via an anonymous survey at the end of the year, that they overwhelmingly declared the introduction of iPads into their personal school world had been destructive.
I could see this.
At the time, I thought the problem lay with the lack of enough proper orientation at the outset. It seemed warning about the pitfalls of the distractable iPad, and teaching the students how to merge its use into their lives constructively would have stemmed the problem, especially for the honors students. The “here’s your iPad; this is how you turn it on: don’t use it for anything inappropriate” discussion the kids described seemed inadequate.

I still believe this to be true, but to a lesser degree. My orientation changed when I watched this video from Sir Ken Robinson on Changing Pardigms:

Yes, that’s a USA Map of Prescriptions for ADHD. You can find it at 3:50 in the video.

The year of the iPad distribution, the ensuing distracted behavior led to several sophomores being recommended for ADHD  testing. From my understanding, that’s a little late for ADHD to begin. Could the iPad removal have been an alternative intervention to medication?

Regardless, the students didn’t want to give up the iPad, almost across the board; not even the motivated students who clearly saw and felt the negative impact of their iPad use.

A couple of classes, however, felt compelled to discuss their survey responses in class (so much for my attempts at providing anonymity). I listened to them describe:

  • how their grades had dropped;
  • spending study time playing stupid games, and doing poorly on tests;
  • checking for new Snapchats since the last time they got a Snapchat or Instagram;
  • logging onto their email repeatedly;
  • following Hollywood icons;
  • allowing their sleep to be disrupted by keeping the iPad by their bedside, etc.

They ALL said it was a negative experience and they wish they hadn’t allowed the iPad distractions to get out of hand.

When I asked them if the iPads should be given out next year to the next class, they answered with a resounding “No!” 
When I reminded them they could turn the iPads back in, the majority back-peddled immediately, saying that they wanted to be able to have access to all those distractions when they wanted. It had become too much a part of their routine.

This  poster hangs in my classroom:

The iPad distraction is all about the moment, and instant gratification. I believe it’s our (teachers, parents, administrators, friends, etc.) responsibility to help our students learn to integrate technology successfully into their lives.  The technology is not going away. We have to help them live productively with it. Ask Oprah, and she’ll tell you it takes a village.

I believe this lifestyle change must be done aggressively, while the students are forming their habits. If the schools are going to provide an opportunity as fabulous  as giving every student an iPad, they must teach the students how to handle them productively. Otherwise, there will be a negative trade-off.

What can parents do?

  • Start by not contacting your students during class time.
  • Get the bell schedule and contact them during their lunch.
  • During class time, call the office and have them deliver a message if it is time sensitive.
  • Tell your student that the electronics are off limit during class, and during evening study time.
  • If the student doesn’t comply, take away the electronics for a week so the student can re-acclimate to living life in class without anticipating a Ping from cyberspace.

I realize better than some how inconvenient it is to remove the tools we gave our kids for OUR convenience. Try designing a lesson around the iPad only to find some of the students have lost privileges.  But we have to support them through intervention. If we do not intervene now, even at our own expense, we are shaping the rest of their school year.

I have had more than one student express relief when their iPad was finally taken away for good after multiple infractions and threats of losing it. To hear them tell it, it’s like plopping a recovering alcoholic into a bar with a drink, and telling him to not to indulge.

If the recovering alcoholic manages to not take a drink, what do you think will be going on in his mind the entire time? Do you think he will be fully engaged in the activities around him? No. He’ll be thinking about that drink, nonstop.

Putting the iPad inside the backpack makes the student wonder what (s)he is missing, instead of being fully present for the lesson.
If you believe no child says, “I hope I’ll be an alcoholic when I grow up,” then believe this:
No student says,
I hope I’ll be distracted from my work when I go to class.
They need our help to learn how to make this marvelous technology their own, and still be powerful, productive students.
Any suggestions for parents or schools?

I’m just saying…

Listen to my guest episode on the Parenting ADHD Podcast With Penny Williams: The Superpower of Choice here:

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