Thursday, May 2, 2024

Cell Phones in Schools

Cell phones in schools has been a big topic here for the past few days.  The Province of Ontario recently introduced its plan to restrict cell phone use (and vaping) in schools.  I have a few opinions about this so I thought I would write about it here. 

My oldest son, E, is in Grade 7 (12 years old) and he does have a cell phone.  He was one of the last kids in his class to get one and if it was solely up to me he still wouldn't have one.  My position was that he just didn't need it.  However since he got it in the fall he has been quite responsible with it and does use it to stay in touch with his friends by texting.  He does not have any social media accounts, he doesn't watch much (if any) YouTube, and by checking in on his group chats I can see that mostly he is discussing video games and school work.  

Our school (part of the English public school system in Toronto and has kids from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8) has rules for cell phone use, and they actually seem to align with what the Province has proposed.  Kids up to grade 6 have to power down their phones and are not permitted to use them at all during the school day.  Kids in grades 7 and 8 cannot have their phones in class and need to keep them in their locker.  If they want to have them at lunch, they can use them off of school property (since they are allowed to leave for lunch). However I am told, and have seen for myself when I'm there to volunteer on pizza day, that the rules are not being enforced.  Kids have them all the time and especially have them at lunch on school property.  The grade 7s and 8s all sit in the lunch room looking at and playing with their phones.  I'm also told that social media, particularly Snapchat, is a big problem and causes a lot of distractions for the kids.  Now E tells me that he does leave his phone in his locker, as he is told to do, and I have no reason not to believe him. 

Apparently the reason why the school is having trouble enforcing the rules is that parents are pushing back saying they must be able to get in touch with their kids at any time throughout the day.  First of all, I can't believe that is actually true, and second, there is no reason why the parent cannot call the school office to get a message to their child.  I did that a number of times before E got his phone when I needed to tell him piano lessons were cancelled or whatever.  He always got the message.  I think if the school actually surveyed parents I think they would find the majority of them do not need to be in constant contact with their kids, and if that is the case, then we don't need to bend to the small majority. 

With all of the media coverage of this matter, people have of course noted that phones can have great educational value, one example for students who speak English as a second language like the convenience of being able to look something up easily.  Students can also use them to records videos, take photos, and other things for science experiments, collect other data, and just do research. All valid points and if there is certain classwork where kids could use their phones, then maybe there could be an exception to the rule for that time. 

However I think that sets up a dangerous precedent that everyone has to have a phone, and a phone with certain capabilities, just to complete classwork and that doesn't seem fair.  It's also difficult for a teacher to monitor exactly how the phones are being used in class, even if the initial reason is a valid one. But kids are quick with their phones and you know that in between the data collection, or whatever, they will be distracted by everything else on their phone.

I'm not naive enough to think that it's just the phones that are distractions in school.  How many notes did I write to my friends during class, and then covertly pass them along without the teacher seeing?  Sneaking in ways to speak to your friends when you're in class is part of the experience of being in school.  But the cell phones have just exponentially increased that distraction.  I also get that this is way people talk to each other now, but are we giving up on all of the other social skills people need to develop?

Online bullying is also a factor.  It used to be that if you were being bullied at school, at least when you got home you didn't have to worry about it.  And then the internet came around and nowhere was safe, the bullies followed you home through your computer.  Wouldn't it be interesting if we could flip this again, and make school the safe place? A place where everyone had a break from their phones, where people don't feel left out because they don't have a phone, or don't have the latest version, or don't have the AirPods and Apple Watch to go with it. Where kids can just talk to each other and gain other life skills besides how to post TikTok videos (a skill that I admittedly do not possess). 

I'm glad that the province is trying to address this issue, but I am not pleased that I immediately got an email from the Toronto District School Board acknowledging the plan and saying they are considering how it could be implemented in this school (i.e. "we cannot say we will ban cell phones").  And I'm not pleased that our school had a good plan already but fails to enforce, allegedly because of a few loud parents. 

If you are a parent, particularly of a child who has a phone, what are your thoughts on letting the kids have them all day long, without restrictions? 


  1. I think it depends on their age whether they should be able to have it with them during the day. My kids do reach out to me during the day with questions and concerns. Technically they should be able to wait till the end of the day to tell me what they need to tell me! I don't think they should be allowed to use them during class unless the teacher is doing something where devices are used - but then they all have laptops too!

  2. I think a lot of areas are beginning to address this issue. Our school district in Texas is talking about banning the phones at school. I think it's a good idea. You are right...parents can notify kids of important things through the office. Our district is talking about using chromebooks in the classroom if technology is needed. When I volunteered at lunchtime at the high school, I thought it was sad that so many kids were just looking at their phones the whole time.

  3. With my oldest son mobile phones weren't an issue because not many kids had them back then. But with my younger son, we only let him have one when he started high school. The school had strict rules that they had to be kept in their lockers during the day. If the kids were caught using them during school time the phones were confiscated until the end of the day. They could then collect them from the school office. Although phones weren't an issue, laptops were. The kids had to have a laptop for high school and according to Sam, most kids would go on YouTube etc during class time.

  4. Hey, at Liam’s school, kids below grade 11 are not permitted to bring them to school at all….if they do, they must leave them at the office. Gr. 11 can have them but they are off except during breaks and lunch.Communication is through the office. I like the policy and I am not hearing about bullying at school (not that a phone would cause such, but often exacerbates it- kids take a photo of another kid at their worst and it will get replayed forever). He may get a phone this year (maybe)!