Taking a Stand Against the Cell Phone
I refuse to give my twelve-year-old a cell phone and I wish other parents would too. I know this is a personal subject with some exceptions, but I don’t agree with this growing trend. Most of my kid’s friends have phones and have had them since the fourth or fifth grade. I have been struggling to understand why parents feel like phones are necessary for elementary and middle school-aged kids.
My Students are More Disconnected Than Ever
Who am I to care about kids and cell phones? Well, I’ve been teaching eighth grade for the last 15 years. I’ve seen with my own eyes the effect that cell phones have had on an entire generation of kids. Each year it’s gotten progressively worse to try and gain the focus and enthusiasm of my students. In my opinion, cell phones are to blame, 100%. Text messaging has interfered with their writing capabilities. Social media has sucked away any ounce of self-confidence. Their need to be “plugged in and entertained” has erased curiosity and motivation across the board.
It’s truly disturbing to watch this trend in action. Many of my students are lost in another world. They are not always present and are rarely fully engaged. They are literally staring at the cell phone under their desk. Even when their phones are away in their backpacks, they’re waiting for a chance to check that newest notification. Furthermore, many students have personas on social media that they feel obligated to maintain 24/7. These personas often become more important than their real-life selves. When we allow our kids to have cell phones at a young age, we are making it harder for them to give their best effort in the classroom.
Reasons I’m Given for Early Cell Phone Usage, and My Response:
“It’s for educational purposes”
Parents I’ve talked to have justified it by saying their kids don’t use them for phone calls or social media sites; they’re just for educational purposes. Or they use apps to set limited time usage, take them away at night, or know all their passwords. I’m not convinced that any of these restrictions will make a difference. The truth is, our kids are way smarter than us when it comes to technology. They can get around every roadblock we set-up. If they’re determined enough, they’ll do whatever they want on their cell phones despite our interventions.
“I talk to them about internet safety”
I have spent an excessive amount of time teaching my students (and my own children) about being “safe and smart online.” We talk at length about digital citizenship, online bullying, and digital literacy. We watch videos, have meaningful conversations, and share concerns. But guess what – it’s not enough. We can educate until we’re blue in the face, but it won’t matter. Yes, it might deter some kids from making poor decisions, but this band-aid will not hold up.
To think that our kids are prepared to process all the things they see and hear online is foolish and misguided. The reality is, their brains are not ready to handle the overload of media that comes with constant cell phone usage. Studies have shown that kids are experiencing changes in their brain chemistry and becoming addicted to their phones. Not to mention the disruption in sleep patterns, social-emotional issues, and decreased productivity at school and at home. So why are more and more elementary and middle school kids showing up to school with cell phones?
“I want to reach my kids”
Parents argue that they want to be able to communicate with their kids during the school day, to relay changes regarding after school plans or extracurricular events. We have phones available in the office exclusively for student use, and we have secretaries that can relay messages to students all day long. I can’t tell you how many times a cell phone has rung in my classroom, only for a student to tell me that it’s their parent. Um, what … don’t they know we’re learning about Shakespeare up in here? The response is, “They needed to tell me where to meet after school.” Awesome. Now I get to redirect thirty-three eighth graders back into the lesson after that really important interruption.
The Kids Have Plenty of Access to Technology
When I asked my students what they need their phones for in class, the overwhelming response was to check the time. “When we can’t find the clock, we just check our phones.” The other popular answer was to use the calculator feature because going across the room to get an actual calculator took too long. They also like the ability to listen to music during independent work. Well, in my classroom we have a real clock, real calculators, and an old-school CD player/radio. We also have Chromebooks and headphones for every student to meet their technological needs. Cell phones are not a necessity in the classroom, period.
So, I’m Asking You to Wait
I know that this is a personal decision for each family, and I know that in some cases cell phones are a true necessity. But if you are at all on the fence, I’m asking you to wait. Wait as long as you can, until it feels absolutely critical. Wait until after middle school. I’m pledging to wait and I hope more parents will consider it. I know it won’t be easy and I know my kids will continue to ask, but my family is opting to wait a little longer. Will you?