Should schools ban cell-phones?

Lately, I just cannot escape this topic. 

In my evening snacks with Houses, students pile into my living room to talk about what is working, what could be improved, and just life in general.  Inevitably, conversation turns to our overly strict cell-phone and wifi policies, and we have a great debate about whose decision it is to control technology.

This year, I am spending a great deal of time meeting with parents, past-parents and alumni, and I’ve had over 25 small group meetings in six countries.  In most conversations, we also end up discussing teens and technology use.  The consensus with adults is easy. They like that we do not allow phones in the dining hall or chapel. They like hearing that many teachers do not allow them in class. They like that we take phones away from grades nine and ten students overnight. They like that we shut off the wifi at night.  They like that we had a speaker in to teach students to be responsible digital citizens (Check out Chris Vollum’s message).  And most of all, they like that we still emphasize relationships; we have always been a community that engages deeply with each other and spends a lot of time outside.

Our teachers also talk about the benefits of less technology at school, and our reasons are sound:  social media has been associated with depression, anxiety, and the fear of missing out; there’s always a concern about cyberbullying and sexting; and we worry about the limited information that teens are exposed to online when we know they need to be challenged by diverse opinions.  Last year, many of us read Jean Twenge’s book called iGen.  She calls children born between 1995 and 2012 the iGen, as they are the first to enter adolescence with smartphones in their hands.  Her research is somewhat alarming:  teens spend about nine hours each day using screens; the average teenagers processes 3,700 texts per month.  Twenge reports that by their own admissions, teens are addicted to their phones.

Now before we adults get too judgmental, a 2016 Common Sense Media Study found that adults spend as much time – or more – with screens as their kids do.

Recently, on Family Day weekend, we made the long trek to Baie-St-Paul so Kevin and the kids could ski at Le Massif.  We like to listen to a podcast called Making Sense by Sam Harris, and the episode we chose was Douglas Rushkoff, who explored the state of the digital economy.

So should schools do more to control technology use?

I tend to favour the belief that we should manage not avoid technology.  I also believe that increasingly, one of our most important jobs is to cultivate our own healthy digital habits and model good use.  (My own kids would say that I have a lot to learn!)

What I know for sure is that we must continue to talk – with teens especially! – about technology use and how to spend our time and how to portray our lives online.

And at the end of each conversation?  Clarify that rule-making on technology use is an adult decision.



5 thoughts on “Should schools ban cell-phones?

  1. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs – doug — off the record

  2. There is a great difference between intellectual consideration and wisdom born of experience, real consideration, and common sense. In the first, great arguments and following support, but empty to degrees of experience and decisions born of understanding over time. In the second, clearer understanding, born of experience, something the average responsible parent understands, and no need to get into intellectual arguments.

  3. The question about “whose decision it is to control technology” is akin to the age old question of whose decision is it to control power of any kind. ‘Rule of Law’ is a natural and necessary consideration, that is, ‘banning’ or regulating. However, along with this is the greater question; ‘How do we MENTOR the use of power (technology).

    Imagine the ‘rule of law’ is the safety net – to be used when shared community boundaries have been threated. Necessary as it is, this is kind of after-the-fact. Mentoring is really the key. As people, we are not just defined by externally imposed limits – no, we are more firmly defined by the mentored sense of honour and dignity for ourselves and others that we have been given by loving and aware friends and teachers.

    So, rules and restrictions yes, but more so focus on a loving, reasoned mentoring process on why there might need to be these limits – and why these limits are a good thing for all of us. The best rules are the ones that everyone has contributed to and feels invested in.

    LCS, in my experience, has always had a great capacity for this.

  4. No need for cell phones in schools, and definitely not in the classroom. I would even recommend taking computers out of the classroom and the kids going once a week to a lab for computer training. We’re creating a group of individuals who don’t know how to work through problems and learn on their own. Unless there’s something electronic before them, their attention spans are decreasing. Also, when they look things up, too many buy into whatever is on the screen. Reading books, writing on paper, erasing, discussing topics with classmates, and making things with the hands are things that take contemplation and time along with the social interaction.

  5. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Toronto) now has a technology addiction resource centre. In 2017, the DSM-5 (the metric used by the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose mental health disorders) now examines online gaming as a bona fide addiction just like alcohol and drugs. Adolescents, whose prefrontal cortex is not sufficiently developed at 15, 16, 17, cannot self-regulate as well as a 35-year-old (and even some of those have struggled with it). Screens are here to stay but any school that believes it is committed to wellness and student mental health SHOULD have a plan in place that includes limits on access to tech and smartphones. What else is Lakefield willing to do to teach kids about how screen time takes away from IRL time? Other private schools have disabled wifi during school hours or have built classroom-based charging/docking stations where students can voluntarily leave phones to avoid disruption in class. According to a Pew survey 60% of teens report they themselves are troubled by too much screen use and 54% say they spend too much time on their phones. Wellness, indeed, this is much more than wellness, it’s a mental health issue. If there are parents unwilling to see the adverse effects of smartphone overuse on adolescent mental health, call in the experts and educate them. This is a chance for a Canadian private school to make a big impact on a social public health issue that is not going to go away.

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