We’re starting to learn more about the impact of digital device usage on a young generation’s learning and mental health. Gallup recently surveyed K-12 teachers to get their views on whether kids are being helped or hurt — and found educators at odds with the views of most parents. Gallup’s Brandon Busteed gives us the results.
Sharyl: First of all, do you know how many children bring some sort of computer device to school?
Brandon Busteed: The estimates vary, but between eight and nine out of ten students bring some sort of digital device to school these days, so it's a pretty prevalent occurrence.
Sharyl: And most of the teachers you polled think digital devices are harmful to students’ physical and mental health. First, in terms of physical health I think that's kind of a no brainer. What were they saying?
Brandon Busteed: Only four percent of teachers say that the devices are mostly helpful to their mental and physical health which is to say that the rest either say it's harmful to them or are indifferent.
Sharyl: And that, I think, might be expected, but the number when it comes to mental health was pretty overwhelming. I think it was 69% said digital devices were more likely to harm a student's mental health. Were you surprised that number was so high?
Brandon Busteed: Seven out of ten teachers say that digital devices are harmful to students’ mental health, only four percent see it as slightly helpful, and, but that's in contrast to nearly 70% of parents who say that digital devices on whole are helpful to their students’ mental health, so there is a stunning difference there.
Sharyl: As a parent, what do you think may account for that? Why do parents think it's such a helpful thing when the teachers think it's not?
Brandon Busteed: As parents we, we have our kids use devices in ways that are very useful to us as parents, right? To distract them, to help them, you know, avoid boredom in certain places, so I think potentially parents are looking at it in a slightly rosier lens, right, in terms of maybe the benefits parents get out of it. But I am surprised to see parents as high on, you know, thinking these devices are helpful to their mental health.
Sharyl: So teachers, very negative on students— the impact on their mental and physical health. But when it comes to students education, for education purposes, did teachers see digital devices as more helpful or harmful?
Brandon Busteed: Yes. So overall they, they see on education, when you ask them about education benefit, about 40% of teachers say they are mostly helpful to students education. About 20% say mostly harmful, right, and the rest are kind of in the middle, who say neither helpful nor harmful. So it's a net plus score, right, if you just say, you know, how many percent are positive versus negative, 40 versus 20, but interestingly enough it's still not a majority of teachers who see the positive benefit of digital devices on student's education, and that is surprising given the billions of dollars that have been invested in educational technology initiatives across schools. I mean, we're years into seeing these initiatives, and to see that there isn't even a majority of the teacher population saying that these devices are helpful to their students’ education, that's a really important wake up call I think for school districts, for educators, for the education technology providers who are a big part of this as well.
Sharyl: Looking at all the questions you asked, what would you say is the main takeaway from the survey?
Brandon Busteed: Well, overall, you know, teachers and parents just have very different views about these devices, particularly on students’ mental and physical health, and so I think that's something for all of us to start to think more carefully about. So as a parent, you know, I'm already thinking about strategies, about, you know, encouraging my kids to not use these devices during the week, that's a new rule I have in the household. So we'll let them have access to it on the weekend, but there's no access to these during the week. Everybody needs to think about their own policies around this, but I think we have to be pretty good judges about the value of these things.
Sharyl: How old are your kids, the ones that you can keep off the devices during the week?
Brandon Busteed: Yeah. So, almost seven and almost nine, and, anybody who's a parent knows that, if they've had access to these devices in any form they're, they're very addictive. They're things too that of course do have some benefit, so I see some of the benefits in this in that my kids are learning to read and write now because they're texting me during the day while I'm at work, right? And so, that's an interesting example. They don't have these at school, but, you know, when they're at home they send a message to daddy, they're learning how to respond, how do you spell this word, and they're also using things like computer coding practice. And so I'm seeing some of the very important benefits of what these devices can do, but I also see the downside when I try to get my kids’ attention and they've got their head buried in one of their devices, and, uh, they don't even answer or respond to us after repeated attempts. So-
Sharyl: Join the club.
Brandon Busteed: Yeah, exactly. I'm sure many people can relate to that.