The phone challenge

I was on a field trip for a week with 39 fifth-graders, teenagers of about sixteen. In normal school weeks, they do what all sixteen-year-olds do: they come to school because they have to, the breaks are the highlight of the day and they're on their phones whenever possible. It is no exaggeration to say that they are addicted to their phone. If there's no WiFi, if their phone isn't properly charged overnight, or if they're out of range, they feel the slight panic I felt when I decided to abstain from alcohol for a month.

In the bus on the outward and return journey, they had their phone within reach for music, videos, games, apps, selfies and TikTok. During dinner, a few did what his mother probably wouldn't do at home: on his telephone. In the morning when they just got out of the shower: telephone. If I came in the evening to say that the lights had to be turned off: telephone.

On the second day I went on a mountain bike tour with a group. Two and a half hours of bouncing over tree roots and boulders, through the mud and loose sand. No backpacks because it was way too hot and the phone just didn't fit in the sports pants. On the way I hear a girl say to a friend: 'If I had known that I would go cycling without my phone with me all afternoon and that I really liked it… I would have laughed at myself really hard.'

On the third day, during a high-altitude course along rope ladders and bridges, via ferrata and zip line, a boy says to a friend: 'At home I would spend all my time on my phone wasting my time with all kinds of shit. Now here we are and I don't even think about it. Being outside and doing things is so fucking cool.'

I am under no illusions: now that they are all back home, they first show a few pictures to their parents (not all of them of course) and then they hang out on the couch with their phone as usual and no more meaningful word comes out .

Why am I telling this? Because I had to think about this challenge. Distraction, movement, being outdoors, throwing yourself into something new and exciting – that's it. This will change your habits and behavior.

And by the way: no alcohol was found with these good darlings – although after all these years in education I also know that that doesn't say everything.


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