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Should we allow smartphones in school?

By Alan Smithee
 Getty / Sean Gallup
*Updated 2023
As many parents today know all too well, smartphones are not just for adults. More than half of children in America have a smartphone by age 11 (though Bill Gates waited until his children were 14 before giving them smartphones). As the list of smartphone apps for kids keeps expanding and communication between family members, friends, classmates, and even between teachers and students, is increasingly centered around smartphones, the gadget is becoming more of a necessity than an accessory. Though COVID-19 forced kids to learn online, a large part of their social and educational lives still remain dependent on digital interaction and online connectivity. Clearly, smartphones are here to stay, so schools now need to decide whether to embrace them and make good use of them or ban them altogether.
Here are three arguments for why we should ban phones from schools and three for why we should welcome them.


We should ban smartphones from school


Less physical activity during recess

Kids spend most of their classroom time sitting down. Apart from gym class twice a week or so, the only time they get to stretch their legs and exercise is during recess. So, what happens when you let children bring their phones to school? The obvious. Schoolkids who would otherwise be running around, playing ball, or just hanging on the monkey bars are now sitting with their noses glued to their tiny screens. These kids will not only miss out on developing important social skills but also exercising, which is good for their physical and emotional health and also linked to improved cognitive function, better memory and better concentration.


Unwanted exposure

Parents rely on school staff to make sure their kids are safe at school. This includes safety from exposure to X-rated materials, such as porn and excessive violence, as well as misinformation, including deep fakes, which they are too young to decipher. But even under close supervision, children can be exposed to such material on their own, especially on their or their friends’ smartphones (TikTok, anyone?). While it’s true that there are many parent-control apps that filter and manage kids’ usage of smartphones, kids are smart, digital natives; they enjoy the challenge of coming up with new ways to bypass these measures. This can lead to an endless cat-and-mouse game of new measures and new workarounds.


The un-social network

For some children, screens are also used as a place of refuge. Kids, especially socially awkward ones, sometimes lack the social skills required to make or interact with friends. They may shy away from social interactions if they feel out of place. But face-to-face interaction is a critical life skill. When we interact with others, we are continuously processing wordless signals like facial expressions, tone of voice, and even the physical distance between us. Equipping children with smartphones may increase the chance that they will choose the phone over learning to socialize with other kids. This will make it harder for them in the long term to face social situations as they grow up. Sure, the pandemic and its lockdowns altered what parents considered a normal amount of smartphone and screen time for kids. But the consequences of too much screen time – which school is supposed to be an escape from – can include increased obesity, irregular sleep, impaired academic performance, desensitization to violence, etc.


We should allow smartphones in school



Interactive learning in classrooms

Many schools today don’t have the equipment needed to make technology accessible for their students. This is where smartphones as learning aids come into the picture. These everyday hand-held devices have more processing power than all of NASA’s computers when they landed a man on the moon. So, instead of dealing with computers, the teacher can simply ask the class to scan a QR code or enter a www address that will take students directly to interactive content for the subject they are currently studying. New innovations like AI (hello, ChatGPT) is being used by students, whether teachers like it or not. Some are even incorporating it into classrooms, so those students with smartphones will have easy access to the competitive advantage that AI gives. When in-school education was compromised by the pandemic, hybrid learning became prevalent; digital education has since remained just another way for students to learn about the world around them and for teachers to communicate with them – on various digital platforms, all accessible by smartphones.


Keeping in touch

Back in the day, for parents to contact their children at school, they would have to call the school secretary, dictate a note and have it passed to the teacher and then to the student. Such inefficient methods are no longer required; direct content allows students and parents increased flexibility and freedom in their after-school playdates, activities, and pick-up arrangements. Plus, given the record number of school shootings occurring across America, smartphones give both students and their parents an added feeling of security, knowing that they can call and text each other at any moment.


That’ll teach you

Children are growing up in a world dominated by smartphones. Instead of keeping this significant societal change outside of school and trying to pretend it doesn’t exist, we are better off educating students in school about the benefits and risks of smartphone use (and overuse). This includes teaching children about digital and cyberbullying and its harmful effects and how to responsibly use various social media platforms that are accessible from their smartphones. Teachers can also encourage children to question information and sources that they are exposed to on their smartphones, and how to become more media-savvy, which is an especially important lesson in today’s age of “fake news.”


The Bottom LineSmartphones can make classrooms more in tune with the future lives of students, but can also pose a threat to their social and academic development. What would you say if your child asked to bring a smartphone to school?

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