'No Phones, New Friends Friday' school lunch policy is making teens kinder — and less lonely

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When Iowa Valley Junior-Senior High School principal Janet Behrens observed her students in the cafeteria, she was dismayed to see that they spent more time looking down at their phones than they did looking at and interacting with each other. So last year, she implemented a new policy that's having a big impact.


According to KCRG News, "No Phones, New Friends Friday" requires students to put away their devices one day a week and sit with people they don't normally hang out with. When students enter the lunch room on Fridays, they get a colored card that assigns them to a specific table. Each table also has conversation starters to help kids break the ice and interact.

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Anyone who knows teens knows that this kind of forced socialization has the potential to backfire. Kids that age tend to separate themselves into groups and cling to their close friends. For some, having to make conversation with peers they don't know can feel like torture at first, so they may not immediately jump on board with such an idea.

At the same time, loneliness and social isolation is a growing problem among teens, despite (or perhaps because of) constantly being connected to other via social media. Something has to give.

Behrens said it took a couple of weeks for students to adjust, but thankfully, the policy seems to be working as intended.

"Everybody enjoys it," junior Page Weick told KCRG."I think people have a lot more respect for others."

Freshman Sahara Kanke said at first she didn't want to do it at all, but has since come around to loving the Friday lunches. "I think it's fun, I like doing it," she said. "People are more nice to each other now because they got to know each other at lunch."

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Principal Behrens is pleased to see how students have taken to the policy. "Every little thing helps in this day and age with all of the things that you have going on, all the pressures that they have with social media," she told KCRG. "It's nice to see them take a break from all that."

Teens may be particularly prone to the drama and pressure of social media, but they're not the only ones tethered to their phones to the detriment of face-to-face interaction. Perhaps we would all benefit from a No Phones, New Friends day in our lives, at least on occasion.

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