Should we allow smartphones in school?

By Alan Smithee
 Getty / Sean Gallup
*Updated 2018
As many parents today know all too well, smartphones are not just for adults. The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is 10.3 years (though Bill Gates waited to give his children smartphones until they were 14). As the list of smartphone apps for kids keeps expanding, and communication between family members, friends and classmates (even teachers!) is increasingly centered around the smartphone, the gadget is becoming more than an accessory but a necessity. Smartphones are here to stay, so schools now need to decide whether to embrace them and make good use of them, or ban them all together.
Here are three arguments why we should ban phones from schools and three why we should welcome them.


We should ban smartphones from school


Less physical activity during recess

Kids spend most of their time sitting down in the classroom. Aside from gym class, a couple times a week, the only time they get to stretch their legs and exercise is during recess. 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 down nose glued to their tiny screens.  These kids will be missing out on exercising, which is not only good for their health but is also linked to improved cognitive function, better memory and being able to concentrate better.


Unwanted exposure

Parents rely on the school’s staff to make sure their kids are safe when at school. This includes safety from exposure to X-rated materials, such as porn and excessive violence. But even with the best teachers’ supervision, children with smartphones and even children who do not have smartphones can be exposed to such material on someone else’s phone. Not to mention what they see watch on smartphones while on the school bus to and from school. It’s true that there are many parent-control apps that filter and manage kids’ usage of smartphones. But kids are smart and 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 and them. Equipping children with smartphones may increase the chance they will choose the phone over socializing with other kids. This will make it harder for them in the long-term to face social situations as they grow up.


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 aides 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 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. Digital education is 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; the ability to be immediately contactable 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 comfort, knowing they can call and text and video each other at any moment in time.


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 they are exposed to from their smartphones, which is an especially important lesson in today’s age of “fake news.”


Bottom line: Smartphones can make school classrooms more in tune with the future lives of students, but they can also pose a threat to their social and academic development. What would you say if your child asks if he or she can bring a smartphone to school?

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