Text Less, Live More by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
In a mid-November assembly, two students shared the story of a recently graduated Milton Academy friend who was tragically killed as she was biking across the United States. Merritt Levitan was killed by someone who was texting while driving. To honor Merritt, the “Text Less, Live More” campaign has begun at Nobles and Milton with many signing a pledge not to text and drive and to wear a “Text Less, Live More” bracelet as a reminder.
At the end of November, along with half a dozen Nobles colleagues, I attended a presentation by Catherine Steiner-Adair at Beacon Academy in Boston where she shared reflections on her new book The Big Disconnect. Her thesis is that the ubiquity of technology has disconnected us from the most important relationships in our lives and that we have to become more intentional at cultivating those relationships by disconnecting from our growing device addiction.
As I drove home from the event, I couldn’t help thinking about the “Text Less, Live
More” campaign. Yes, there was the transparently obvious message about safety and
saving lives. If you want to learn more about the frightening dangers of texting and
However, I kept coming back to thinking that if we all texted (and “teched”) less, we would all live more (and better) which was, I think, the core message of Dr. Steiner-Adair’s presentation.
A quick skim of the book and my notes revealed what many might find as a surprising
dichotomy; as the adults complain more and more about the “screen addiction” of their
children, the children are just as distressed about their parents’ distraction because of
the parents’ devices. In story after story (she interviewed over 1,000 kids and adults for
her book) young people expressed frustration about the ways in which parents were not
paying full attention to them – and often when these children needed their parents most.
While as working adults we have come to view technology as a way for us to strike a
better “work/life balance," our kids interpretation is that the latest email, text, or call
is simply more important than a simultaneous interaction with a child (and this cuts
across all age groups). While I don’t believe this is intentional (and I can be as guilty as anyone), the message is implicit in our behavior.
Steiner-Adair writes, “…the take home message I am hearing from children of all ages is this: They feel the disconnect. They can tell when their parents’ attention is on screens or calls and increasingly they are feeling that all the time. It feels 'bad and sad' to be ignored. And they are tired of being the 'call waiting' in their parents lives…The message we communicate with our preoccupation and responsiveness to calls and emails is: Everybody else matters more than you. Everything else matters more than you. Whatever the caller may say is more important than what you are telling me now.”
In the same breath, Steiner-Adair also reminds parents that we need to be more clear and consistent in our rules and guidelines around the use of technology (despite our children’s protestations). She summarizes her thoughts on how we should approach our children about their technology use in very simple and clear language:
“This is not your computer — I know it has your name on it, but this is my computer (or your school’s computer). I’m your parent, and I reserve the right to see everything that’s going on there. You need to be on the computer in an open place. I have the right to know what your homework assignment is. You can’t be in your room with the door closed. You can’t take it to bed with you. You can’t collapse a screen when I walk by. We have a code of conduct and we expect you to stick with it: Don’t be mean, don’t lie, don’t embarrass other people, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, don’t go places you’re not allowed to go. Don’t post pictures that Grandma wouldn’t love. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t approve of.”
This is an incredibly complex and emotional topic on many levels. As we head into the
holidays, I hope we can all consider the impact of technology on our lives and take heed
of the message from some very caring and thoughtful Nobles and Milton kids that we
should all “text less” and “live more.”