'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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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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Jeff Bridges photo by Gage Skidmore/Wikicommons

An image from Jeff Bridges' personal note on his website

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Taking on chemotherapy is no easy task. Pile that onto losing smell, restricted breathing, and medical isolation, and anyone would want to throw in the towel. But for the ever optimistic Bridges, dealing with two health crises simultaneously became a beautiful life lesson, which he shared in a handwritten letter found on his website.


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