Are kids more present than we give them credit for?
This weekend, I had the pleasure of being a judge for the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. Writing was my category, as you might have guessed. Though the art is insanely cool and amazing.
Yeah, a high schooler made that. The writing is equally surprising.
The biggest surprise of the weekend, however, didn’t hit me until I was on my way home. My boyfriend and I were on the bus, I was listening to a podcast (he picks some out for me in advance of trips- it’s disgustingly thoughtful), and they were discussing cellphones. I thought to myself, “I should have kept track of what the Writing Awards entries had to say about cellphones- I bet it would be interesting.” Once I started thinking about it, I realized just how interesting it was. Because out of the over 100 entries I read, only one mentioned cellphones. And even that wasn’t “my friend texted me” it was “a person who is lost uses his cellphone to get help in an emergency”- you know, the reason most parents say they give their kids phones.
None mentioned computers. None mentioned mp3 players, Nooks, Kindles, or iPads. Not even headphones. For all the griping we do that anyone under 25 (which, yes, includes me) spends all day every day plugged in, there was none of that here.
Now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Sure, they use those things all the time- they just didn’t think it would be appealing in an essay being judged by adults.” But here’s another interesting thing- there didn’t appear to be any other censoring. Some cursing, some underage drinking, some dangerous habits, it was all there. Even the more mundane- they were fine with being materialistic. Detailed descriptions of shopping trips seemed alright. But in the thousands and thousands of words I read, there was nary a keystroke mentioned- a bit ironic really, considering these were submitted electronically.
I’ve got two theories on this.
1. Maybe students have stopped seeing phones and computers as objects and merely process the content they provide. Maybe drooling over the newest device is a trait learned from adults. To a high school student, the phone may just be the fork- it’s how you get the stuff you want, but it’s what’s on it that matters. When students in essays say, “My best friend had told me he was trouble,” could they really mean, “My best friend sent me a text last week saying he was trouble”? Has it just become understood that a certain percentage of their conversation will come to them on a screen? Would it be like me saying “I spoke the words with my mouth”?
2. This is the one I prefer to believe. Maybe when they’ve got their fingers twitching non-stop across the phone and they say, “no, really, I’m paying attention” they aren’t lying. Maybe their phones have become windows- they can see right through them. In these memories they share, from senior prom or a camping trip or a dance recital, was there a phone in the writer’s hand at some point? Probably. And their memories might be just as clear as if there wasn’t.