School ban on cellphones should be slow

Thanks to France, the debate is now on.

French children will have to leave their smartphones and smart devices at home or switched off when they are at school starting in September — a law that will surely become an option for every other developed country.

There is little doubt that cellphones and other devices have become a huge part of our lives, regardless of age. But it’s the usage by students that seems to be having the most negative effect, making these devices a target by experts who say schools need to act quickly.

While we can see the benefit of smartphones and other devices in the educational system, we can also understand how they have become a distraction throughout the day for youngsters.

Cellphones are quickly replacing the much-needed lessons of social interaction for children, who often choose to send a text to friends sitting in the next row of a classroom rather than waiting to speak with them after class. This kind of activity also extends to the lunchroom, bus stop, playground, the school parking lot and even in the home.

Students don’t ever get a chance to switch off from school or relationships with people at school. They are both psychologically and emotionally connected to these devices — adults are too, but for kids it’s particularly powerful. Even worse, cellphones are increasingly becoming a vehicle for bullying.

But banning these devices at school is a challenging terrain.

Still, we think the French are on to something worthwhile — though the journey to an outright ban must be slowly traveled.

We can see the merit for starting with the elementary grades, where such things as cellphones and other devices are less important. And keeping them out of young students’ hands could go a long way toward teaching them some restraint.

That’s not to say a 12-year-old shouldn’t be able to have a cellphone while in school. But it should be required to be on silent and put away throughout the day. The argument that the device is important in case a parent needs to call or text their child, or vice versa, is a thin one — after all, there is always someone on the other end of the school phone.

Students in middle and high schools are a different story.

Most have already had years of getting familiar with relying on a cellphone and other devices for staying connected with parents and friends. Prying them out of their hands will take some doing — but again, we can see the merit.

While some schools, and now even entire countries, are looking at a complete ban of these devices in schools, we’d draw the line at that thinking.

While it’s true that, around 2011 or 2012, most teenagers carried smartphones in their pockets and, as a consequence, the time youngsters spend each day watching digital devices’ screens exploded — greatly affecting many students’ ability to focus and learn in schools — we think the best path for school districts, administration and teachers to take would be to require cellphones and other devices not be heard, seen or used (aside from required class projects) during class times.

Such a requirement would put the onus of enforcement on the shoulders of the adults in charge, but isn’t that an integral part of their job? Parents don’t always like the fact that teachers are responsible for their children for the better part of eight hours a day — including enforcing rules and meting out discipline — however, in this case, enforcing and/or reinforcing restraint on cellphone use should be seen as a positive.



“Social media is an amazing tool, but it’s really the face-to-face interaction that makes a long-term impact. (Felicia Day)