MMA Reevaluates Cell Phone Policy to Support Healthy Social Media Habits for Cadets
As an increasing amount of research reveals the negative effects of social media use upon teens, Missouri Military Academy (MMA) is reevaluating its cell phone policy for cadets on campus. That research, plus growing concern by Academy faculty, company leadership advisors, other staff, and coaches and requests from parents, have prompted MMA to re-evaluate cadet cell phone use on campus and consider a more restrictive policy.
“The negative effects of social media use through cell phones is one of our top areas of concern for our cadets’ physical and mental health. This has become a serious discussion at the national level,” said MMA President Brigadier General Richard V. Geraci, USA (Ret). “We believe our partnership with parents and our vigilance concerning cadets’ healthy digital habits are more important than ever for their safety and welfare.”
In February, the American Psychological Association Chief Science Officer Mitch Prinstein, PhD, reported recent research and recommendations regarding social media use and children to the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to Prinstein, findings show that children may not have the ability to restrain themselves from using social media too much.
Psychology experts warn that social media use may lead to negative mental health, addiction, promotion of high-risk behavior, cyberbullying, exposure to harmful content, desensitization to violence, and sextortion. They also caution that social media may become the preferred activity over healthy recreational activities, in-person social interaction, and sports.
In addition, news stories have reported on cases of teen boys being targeted and caught in sextortion scams, which can have devastating consequences for families. Recently, a father shared a story of his son’s suicide after falling victim to an Instagram sextortion scam, in an effort to raise awareness and prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies.
Currently, MMA’s policy permits cadets to bring one phone and one smartwatch to campus, a privilege for cadets in good standing. Cadets are required to check in their phones with their advisor on Sundays, and they can only check them out on Fridays for use during the weekend. Seniors and high-achieving cadets may be allowed to keep their phones, but only if they meet certain academic and deportment requirements. Phones are not allowed in the academic building, at off-campus academic classes, athletic practices, home athletic games, Sunday services, or any corps activities or events designated by the commandant.
The policy also outlines specific unauthorized activities, such as cyberbullying, taking inappropriate pictures or videos, using a cell phone to break any Academy rules, or violating the Honor Code. If cadets break any of these rules, they may lose their phone privileges or face disciplinary action.
According to Geraci, MMA will conduct a survey of current parents this month to ask for their input on proposed changes to the policy which would further limit cadets’ access to and use of cell phones to support healthy digital habits. He says that there is no requirement for cell phones at MMA and that several very successful cadets do not have one.
“Parental involvement, our partnership, and our policies can and do make a positive difference. We encourage our MMA families to talk to their sons about the risks and dangers that exist — to educate them so they don’t unintentionally break the law and jeopardize their futures,” said Geraci. “At MMA, we educate all cadets on how to be responsible digital citizens, including anti-bullying, anti-cyber-bullying, and anti-hazing education. We also monitor and limit their exposure through our technology policy.”
MMA blocks access to social media in the academic building to help cadets focus on their school work. The Academy also monitors cadets’ computers (their real-time activity) through Lanschool to keep them accountable and on task in the academic building and the barracks.
President Geraci recommends the following books for anyone interested in learning more on this topic: Raising Healthy Teenagers and Disconnected: How to Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids, both by Thomas Kersting, and Behind Their Screens: What Teens Are Facing (and Adults Are Missing) by Emily Weinstein and Carrie James.