Screen-Free For A Day, Teens Try Life Without Phones

· Nov. 7, 2015, 4:49 pm

The clock is ticking for Destiny Davis and Jamya Whitmore.

The two high school freshmen, along with 40 of their classmates, are about to give up their cellphones for 24 hours.

They clutch them as they get mentally prepared. Davis says the good part will be talking to her family more.

The bad part? Kinda the same — “Because we’re always communicating on our phones. Like, your family could be in the next room, and we texting them, but now you’ve got to get up and walk to go get them!”

Then it gets real. Maplewood High teacher Jarred Amato gives the 5-minute warning.

The students post to Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat for the last time for 24 hours.

“How we gonna live?” Whitmore asks. “I need my phone.”

The girls put their phones in Ziploc bags. Then it’s time for the group to take a pledge about technology addiction.

Single file, they stack their phones in a cardboard box. Some even kiss them goodbye.

The phones will spend the night locked in a cabinet.

‘They Almost Feel Powerless’

Maplewood High, an inner-city Nashville high school, is taking part in a popular challenge: disconnecting from technology, or taking a “digital cleanse.” Colleges, churches, fitness clubs and other schools around the country are organizing days to unplug.

This attachment between students and their phones is nothing less than addiction, says Amato. The English teacher is still in his 20s, and he relates to his students about the awesome power of smartphones — but he at least remembers a world before they were in every pocket, all the time.

“There’s always a text message to send, there’s always a new picture to see, there’s always a new Snapchat to send,” he says. “They never get a break. And if you ask them, they really don’t like it, but they almost feel powerless to it.”

Fast forward to the next morning. Amato senses something different in his classroom. It’s louder because the kids are talking — and making eye contact.

Destiny and Jamya are comparing how much extra sleep they got without their phones around.

“I went to sleep at 11, looking for my phone,” she says. “I was just bored after that. I don’t care, I was bored!”

By morning, she felt something unusual.

“I was ready to get to school to get my phone,” she says. “If the bus could just move a little faster …”

To milk the moment, the teacher asks a few more questions as the phones sit just out of reach. Most say unplugging was easier than expected. Several say they played outside for the first time in a while.

And then, at long last, they tear the bags open.

First order of business: Count up the missed texts, “likes,” Snapchats, and Kiks.

It turned out the group was missing a lot of messages.

But they were still there, waiting to be read, after everyone had unplugged to live a little.

Copyright 2015 Nashville Public Radio. To see more, visit

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