Q&A: School Psychologist Nate Jones

School psychologist looks at the relationship between children, technology and mental health

‘Kids will always find novel ways to break the rules, to get in trouble. Cellphones have provided a new mechanism for that, but they haven’t come up with new ideas yet,’ says Dr. Nate Jones.

Technology has the potential to do so much good and make our lives so much easier. Yet there are dangers and pitfalls to almost everything we do online — especially when it comes to our kids. Dr. Nate Jones is a school psychologist who looks at the relationship between children, technology and mental health.

Q. When it comes to cellphones, how are elementary schools generally dealing with them?

A. That’s a really important question. For elementary schools, we typically are seeing more prohibitions than kids not being allowed to have phones, at least in the building. Typically they’re staying in backpacks, staying in pockets that are closed. So we’re more often seeing them put away and not really being used.

In contrast, we are seeing them on school buses, and we’re seeing a lot of difficulty with elementary students using phones interactively outside the building. It’s been a challenge for schools, understanding discipline code and how far the discipline code can go when it comes to their students interacting with each other about school or non-school-related topics through technology outside the building. Elementary school kids are still little kids, and they tend to make some mistakes. And there’s been a lot of work that has been done about how to best address the mistakes that get made with technology with our youngest kids.

Q. What about the older kids in middle school or high school?

A. In high school almost every student has a phone. In middle school, you see a huge variety — some students with the newest, latest and greatest, some students with old-school flip phones, some students with just a watch on, all sorts of varying technology.

We see high school teachers having students look information up on their phone, use functions like calculators and other apps on the phone at times. Also, I’ve been seeing more and more restrictions.

One of the schools I used to go to a lot, the guest Wi-Fi was more or less open, so all these students are on Wi-Fi all day and can use their phones because reception is no good. Well now there’s a password, and those students will no longer have access. That’s certainly caused some consternation, but also has decreased phone use. And it was paired with a stronger policy about having phones packed and away.

Q. What effect can phones have on the behavior of kids? Is having a cellphone different in some way?

A. Yes, is the short answer. But at the same time, behavior is behavior, and we hear a lot of “kids these days” talk. We have to respect that kids will always find novel ways to break the rules, to get in trouble, all the ways to just be kids. Cellphones have provided a new mechanism for that, but they haven’t come up with new ideas yet. It’s the same behavior, but in a new way.

I think we want to keep responding, because healthy habits are still healthy habits. A good routine, going to sleep at the same time each day, having regular meals, exercise, extracurriculars, time with your friends, going to school every day — these continue to be the things that promote health.

Q. What are some good rules to have for kids when it comes to technology and the use of social media?

A. The first thing is, every family is different, every child is different, every situation is different. So, really, I only know of one rule; the rest are more or less guidelines.

But the one rule, to me, is talk about it. We have to talk with our kids in our schools; we have to talk with our students, and the conversations have to be ongoing. It can’t be that we did it once when they were seven and we’re good now. We have to have the conversations all the time.

Aside from that one rule, in terms of some guidelines: First thing I might say is the American Psychological Association released a health alert about social media, which contains some great guidance in it. I certainly encourage people to go reference that document and some of the reporting around it.

But also, basic things like phones should not be charged in bedrooms. Keeping kids off social media when they’re young — yes, your 8-year-old might have a phone if that’s the decision you’ve made, but let’s keep social media back.

This article is an edited version of an interview conducted on “The State We’re In” program. It is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

Categories: Q&A