Texting and Cell Phones in Schools. Really?

The bell rings and the scene begins.

Fourth graders and up parade out of school with heads down, cell phones chained to their hands, texting meaningless morsels. They text the friend they just left in class…the friend down the hall…the friend sitting in front of them on the bus.

It’s a place many tech savvy kids feel more comfortable: eyes glued to their cell phone rather than talking face to face. While some school districts have policies on cell phone use in schools or on school property, many do not. It’s unchartered territory for most principals and superintendents who are still trying to figure it all out. So, too, are parents.

The Parent Connection, a non-profit parent education group on Boston’s south shore, hosted a presentation last night with tween/teen parenting expert Joani Geltman. She gave a terrific talk on why kids feel the need to send hundreds of texts day and what parents can do to set some reasonable limits on cell phone addiction. The biggest message: Start young!

A few school-related takeaways from Joani’s presentation:

1. No child needs a cell phone during school.

Yes, they may need it after school to arrange pick ups and after school activities. But having it turned on or capable of being turned on during school hours is a big distraction for kids when they could be converting fractions, listening to the teacher or identifying colonies on a social studies map. Minds of this age naturally wonder or stress about the latest text they received or the one they want to send back. Using a cell phone in school can also lead to natural but unsafe “group think” and actions with friends – like taking or sending inappropriate photos or videos – that can lead to more trouble than good.

Joani’s biggest complaint: parents who text their kids in school. That models the very impulsive behavior we are trying to discourage in kids. If something is that important, an old fashion office phone can do the trick. If it’s not that important, it can wait. We parents just give in to the convenience. I’m guilty too. Thanks for setting us clear Joani. How to do all this? GIve your child a choice: Either keep the phone off from 8-3 or the phone company will automatically shut it off till 3:15. You choose. And parents:  don’t text your kids when they’re in school.

2. Set a screen free zone for 90 minutes a day.

Kids – and parents – need a break from cell phones and screen time every day. And cell phones do not belong in bedrooms over night, where texts fly into wee hours of the night. Research shows that nine to twelve-year-olds need 10 hours of sleep per night and teens need 9 hours to be productive at school. Kids do need to connect with their friends – a need that is very real during puberty. But they also need a break. And parents do, too.

Joani recommends a 90 minute “Turn it Off” zone that includes texting, video games, facebook. skyping, i-chatting, tv, computer. Kids need to spend time alone processing their own thoughts – not texting every thought or action to their friends. And this “turn it off” strategy can also help children to see how dependent they have become on a device. Good advice for parents too. Taking a 90 minute family break from screens everyday can help keep the balance families need.

3. Kids this age don’t need smart phones.

Carrying around the internet in the palm of a child’s hand 24/7 is too much, too soon for most kids. Nothing good happens on the bus, at recess, in the cafeteria or in the woods behind the school playground when kids have little supervision and access to anything and everything. The internet links kids to inappropriate sites like formspring or graphic porn sites that peak young girls and boys’ curiosity. There’s a reason why Facebook has a legal age limit of 13. Food for thought as the i-Phones, droids and coolest “smart” phones make their way to our kids’ Christmas lists.

Thanks for the great tips, Joani. Lots to think about as we consider what’s right for our tweens, teens and families.

Comments

  1. Excellent points! As a former high school teacher, it has been my experience that students are actually relieved (this surprised me) when they HAVE to turn off their phones. It’s easier for them when there is no choice to be made, but rather they are adhering to an enforced rule. Period. They are then able to detach from this distraction and concentrate fully on classroom learning.

    A very worthwhile resource on this topic is Shawn Edgington’s book, “The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook, and Social Media: Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World” (April 2011).

  2. Hello.This post was extremely motivating, particularly because I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Saturday.

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