Iowa School's "No Phones, New Friends Fridays" Make Teens Less Lonely

Students in this high school have to put away their phones and sit with new people once a week.

Dec 5, 2019

(Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com)

Smartphones are perhaps one of the most paradoxical items we own. While they create a shared and communicative digital experience, their use also significantly limits the amount of face-to-face interactions we have on a daily basis. Therefore, while we feel more connected than ever, research shows that we’re actually lonelier than ever. 

We see this phenomenon most dramatically among youth who were born into the digital age. Schools have always been social obstacle courses, and phones have added new elements of isolation. According to KCRG News, Janet Behrens principal of Iowa Valley Junior-Senior High School in Marendo, Iowa noticed it in the lunchroom, where students had their heads down looking at their phones and had minimal conversations with each other. 

To address this issue, she instituted a “No Phone, New Friends Friday” policy at lunchtime. When students enter the lunchroom on Fridays, they receive a card with a color on it indicating which table they will sit at. This encourages the teens to mingle outside their circle. Each table comes stocked with conversation prompts to help them interact with one another.

Behrens told  KCRG that while students were hesitant at first, after several weeks they began enjoying the opportunity to make new friends.

High school junior Page Weick said, "Everybody enjoys it”. She even noted the overall effect it's having on the school. “I think people have a lot more respect for others." 

Sahara, a Freshman reported that – like many others – at first, she was not into the idea, but eventually she began loving it. "I think it's fun, I like doing it… People are nicer to each other now because they got to know each other at lunch."

Professor Nathan Hodges of Coe College said,  “Conversation is one of the most human, and humanizing things that we can do.” He explained that when people connect face-to-face, they begin to listen and empathize with one another.  

Policies such as “No Phone, New Friends Friday” are important because when not pressed upon them, youth are encompassed by screens. 

Schools and administrations around the world have been testing different methods to help students overcome the difficulties associated with smartphones. Aside from loneliness, these gadgets also foster cyberbullying, distraction, and cheating, which make them a massive challenge for the education system. For these reasons and others, France has banned phone-use entirely in school in 2018 according to CNN.

A study published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics shows that students without cell phone use at school gained the equivalent of an week of education as compared to their cell-carrying peers.  ABC News reported that a Rutgers University study also showed that college students who were phone and computer-less during class scored half a grade higher than students with cellphones and laptops.

As research has shown the social and educational benefits of limiting cell phone use among youth, schools and jurisdictions have been finding creative ways to integrate no-phone policies. If one hour a week at Iowa Valley Junior-Senior High School can foster a kinder, less lonely, and more engaged student body, the potential for other initiatives is momentous. 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
5 Crucial Truths for Overcoming Loneliness in the Digital Age
5 Habits of People Who Don't Feel Lonely 
Florida to Require Mental Health Classes in Public Schools

HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.