This ACTUALLY Happened: Teenage Boys Survived Without Their Phones for a Week!
Eight Ways Life Improves Without Phone Attachment
Air. Food. Water. Shelter. Clothing. Sleep. Phone.
...the basic human needs (or so it would seem these days). In actuality, we all know it’s possible to survive without the sustenance we harvest from our phones. Yet, the thought of truly untethering from these mechanical portals of connection, distraction, and self-identity can seem daunting—if not altogether terrifying. Can we obtain meaningful relationships, mindful participation, and self-awareness without the aid of mobile technology? Avon Old Farms, the CT private school for boys, set out to answer this question.
Cell Phone Addiction
As we spin into this social experiment of dependence on ever-present technology, teenagers are at the forefront of the effects of increased screen time. Yet, these teenagers are pausing, taking a look at their phone-attachment habits, and deciding how they are being affected. Many would even say they are addicted. They may feel the rush of a chat notification or the whoosh of social acceptance as their likes on Instagram tank up. They may rest in the comfort that they can avert an awkward or boring real-life scenario by instead entering into another world via an app in hand. Whatever the reason, 54% of teens say they spend too much time on their cell phones.
According to the American Addiction Centers, cell phone addiction can have the following behavioral impacts on teens:
- Difficulty regulating emotions, decision-making, and impulse control due to a decrease in brain connectivity
- Increased use of alcohol and tobacco
- Poor dietary habits
- Social loneliness
A teenage boy spends much of his day at the school he attends; therefore, the messaging he receives from the leadership, teachers, and peers at the institution can have a tremendous influence on his actions. Avon Old Farms, the New England boarding school for boys, is actively teaching teenage boys to acknowledge and address cell phone addiction.
The Resolution, The Challenge
So what will it take to encourage teenage boys to stop overusing their mobile phones? Psychologists suggest that we present teens with opportunities to engage in the real social world—offer their brains the reward of genuine stimulation—rather than the fleeting rush of phone-checking.
In an effort to manifest a campus of true person-to-person connection, or “Brotherhood,” Jim Detora, the Head of School of Avon Old Farms School, enacted the Heads-Up Challenge. He asked his students to put their phones out of sight for the entire school day ...and they did. Moreover, some brave students even abstained from using their phones for an entire week!
“The purpose of the challenge was to demonstrate how liberating not using your phone can be. I know it was difficult for the students but I was proud so many participated. We are trying to teach responsible use of technology and things like having your phone away as you walk around campus and in the Refectory are important. It also makes our community better. Visitors always comment on how welcoming our community is and that we are not walking around with our heads down. It is one of the things that makes our community so special and we want to make sure it continues. This will be an initiative that will be on-going. Habits are tough to break and we understand that it will take some time. So far, we are pleased with the results and we are confident that the students are hearing our message." Jim Detora, Head of School
Teenage boys not only survived without their smart phones, they learned invaluable lessons about who they were and how they could grow into better young men. Here are eight transformative revelations from the Head’s-Up Challenge:
Eight Revelations About Life Without Cell Phones
1. Chatting—actually talking—with other people eases stress levels.
"As a student, actually being able to speak to people while walking around campus was a little different. I am used to walking past people with their eyes down so I just naturally avoided conversation. The feeling on campus shifts and the stress of classes gets a little easier to handle when we chat. Avon is beautiful and we miss the little things when we aren't looking up." - Kristof Proulx ’20
2. You can get better grades.
"Not using my phone for a week helped me finish homework early and now I have a better start in the second quarter. It also helped me—especially in history, English, and math to have better grades. Last quarter, my best grade in history was 80, but now, thanks to the challenge, I don't have a grade under 100." - Yann Broc '23
3. There's a new space to build meaningful relationships.
"It felt really refreshing. It was nice to not have distractions and a social online presence during the day. I could easily interact with my classmates and teachers and have the time to make great relationships and learn new things about campus. I learned that I rarely even need to use my cell phone." - Will Mella '20
4. You can meet new and interesting people.
"Not having a cell phone on me constantly is freeing. Not having a phone to look down at in a potentially awkward situation forces me to meet new people and make new friends. I learned that not having a cell phone can improve your life in certain ways." - Dash Corning '21
5. You see the beauty of your surroundings.
"I began to discover certain beauties around campus that I had never seen before during my four years here such as the statue of an owl on the Admissions building or the hawk that flew above me that I would have missed if I was looking down at my phone." - Po-Lam Fung '20
6. It’s empowering to know you can thrive without boosts from social media.
"It felt quite freeing not using my cellphone for such a long time. Though I have to admit, on the first day I reached for social media about five times but then withheld myself from using it. I learned that I don't need social media to stay connected to the world." - Charles Goggin '23
7. You sleep better.
"I learned that I sleep easier and that I'm more energized in the morning when I don't use my phone before I go to sleep. In addition, I was just a better person, I had a better attitude when it came to school and other tasks like dinner waiter. Also, I learned I had more fun by going out and throwing the ball in the quad then in my room not doing anything." - Bryce Filippazzo '23
8. You’re forced to take your challenges head-on rather than diverting anxiety.
"I realized that I am more dependent on my phone than I thought. During stressful situations, pulling out my phone was a coping mechanism to help take my mind off the issue. I am now much more conscious of what is going on because I had to deal with some awkward situations head-on. I also realized my urge to constantly be socially up to date. For example, when I overheard someone talking about a funny post, I got a strong urge to go have a look. It felt, in a slight way, like a sugar addiction." - Gardner Krag '20
Picture this: one phoneless teenage boy walks up beside another phone-holding young man and inquires how his day is going. The warmth of person-to-person care—eye contact, personality nuance, energy exchange—is an undeniable feeling. Communication is transactional; therefore, in this imagined scenario, we see the phoneless boy prompting his counterpart to be 'heads-up' and be present for interaction ...for lasting connection. At Avon Old Farms, we witness this scene play out over and over again, and the result is a campus that is wired—not to the device in hand, but to each other.
"In the end, I realize that my phone isn't going anywhere, but the people I am with are." - Gardner Krag '20
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Associate Director of Marketing and Communications