The phone on my Principal’s desk rang and I didn’t even get the opportunity to say “Hello”.
“Get down here now!” shrieked my panicked Year 5 teacher, an educator usually calm and highly competent. In the background I could hear the enraged screaming of a 10-year-old boy’s voice. I knew that voice.
On my hasty arrival at the classroom, I looked this boy in the eye who was now holding a chair above his head. I spoke calmly, but firmly. “Put that thing down now. Let me get you out of here.”
Fortunately for everyone in that room, he did. We walked, without speaking, back to my office. He seethed between breaths.
He slumped into a comfortable chair in my office, and I sensed that the worst was over. I told him I’d grab him a glass of water. Upon my return, he was out cold.
I’ve worked with kids long enough to know when a kid is faking sleep – he wasn’t. The snoring and drooling were the telltale signs. And it left me wondering just how utterly exhausted a person needs to be to transition from full-blown anger to deep slumber in a matter of a minute or two.
And this is at the heart of why Australian Primary Principal’s Association, Malcolm Elliott, has this week implored parents to confiscate the screens and devices from their children at night. It’s all in the name of getting them a decent night’s sleep.
Elliott points to sick bays in schools routinely being used by students for naps, so weary are these children from all night online escapades. I fervently wish that was the worst symptom of the sleep crisis that our teachers and school leaders are bearing the brunt of.
Poor sleep, as Australian Professor and renowned sleep researcher Sarah Blunden points out, equals poor behaviour. And poor behaviour equals poor learning outcomes.
This leaves Australian parents, no matter where you send your kids to school, in the company of a highly inconvenient truth – if your child is regularly getting too little sleep, that child is falling behind. Fast.
My advice to our parents is simple and twofold. Firstly, devise a plan with your child about the rules and actions required to make tech a healthy part of their social and academic existence. The plans that are adhered to tend to be the ones that are co-designed.
Design some features into that plan that make the right behaviours likely and the wrong ones more difficult to fall back into.
Think like an Olympic swimming coach who insists that athletes, who must rise at stupid o’clock for gruelling training sessions, place their alarm clock on the other side of the bedroom. They know full well that a snooze button within arm’s reach is designing for the wrong behaviour.
Resist the urge to nag and, instead sit down with a hot chocolate, a pen and a sheet of paper. Agree on a healthy daily screen dosage and an evening cut-off time. Perhaps even put a reward in place for success.
Play your part by deploying the parental controls that all of Microsoft, Apple and Nintendo have available.
But if all that fails, my second piece of advice can’t be avoided. Turn the modem off and hide it in the garage. Cut their data supply off completely.
They’ll squeal like stuck pigs but, believe me, this is an act of love. And, out of love, make it abundantly clear what the circumstances are in which that wifi supply is restored.
No child has ever died from the removal of access to the internet.
But back to my potential chair chucker. When he awoke, we chatted about how tired he must have been, and he confided that he found sleep difficult.
We drove around to his house to let Mum know what had happened at school and she concurred that he was “up and down like a yo-yo” all night, every night.
We looked at his bedroom, positioned at the front of the house, by a busy road and right next to a buzzing streetlamp. I suggested that we move him to a smaller room near the back of the house.
Here’s what happened. The behaviour problems at school – acute, frequent, severe and violent – stopped. Just like that. This kid started smiling at school and he also started learning.
The sleep crisis facing our school-aged students isn’t a product of technology, but technology is a key contributor. Our kids, our teachers and our parents are all paying an outrageous cost for this scourge.
No school, no government and no behaviour management program in schools can overcome it. The tech giants are certainly not about to help out.
This one’s on the heads of every Australian household.