For schools, allowing students to use cell phones may be a better approach than banning them.

For schools, allowing students to use cell phones may be a better approach than banning them.

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Most children in the UK have their own phone by age 11. In China, children get their first phone even earlier, with 88% of first to third graders (ages six to nine) reporting having their own smartphone.

If children have their own phone, they can take it to school with them – perhaps encouraged to do so by their parents for safety reasons. For schools, however, cell phones can be seen as a source of distraction. In France, the use of cell phones is prohibited during school hours. However, surveys of teachers in China have found that the school phone ban is difficult to enforce.

Another approach could be to adopt school policies – rules or guidelines – that accept the inevitability of telephones in schools. Our recent research suggests that students, even in primary schools, may be mature enough to contribute to the development of appropriate policies.

Some research has found that banning cell phone use can improve students’ academic performance, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. But this has not been consistently found in other research studies.

One reason for the inconsistency in the survey results is that the studies focused on different age groups and little consideration was given to children’s academic maturity and motivation. This is important as older children can use their phones more appropriately.

For example, 18-year-olds have been observed to only use their phones during “in-between” spaces in the classroom, such as at the beginning and end of a class or while waiting for instructions. Furthermore, this phone use tended to be a solitary activity and therefore did not interfere with learning. But it seems unlikely that teenagers or younger children would behave in the same way.

Benefits of mobile devices

On the other hand, instead of considering cell phones a distraction, they could be used to increase student engagement in learning. The Bring Your Own Device initiative tested in New Zealand secondary schools, where students were encouraged to bring their smartphones and tablets to use in the classroom, found that their digital skills were improved and that there were more opportunities for collaboration between students and between students and teachers.

Group of teenagers in uniform looking at phones

Rather than banning phones altogether, schools could consider introducing cell phone usage policies that build children’s digital skills and resilience, teaching them about the benefits and risks of cell phone use. In addition to reducing potential distractions from learning, these policies can be used to encourage the proper use of cell phones. This can be particularly important for younger children, who may be less able to regulate their phone usage properly.

Consultation with children

It is important to take into account the views of those most directly involved with the policy – ​​teachers, students and parents. Teachers must enforce the policy, children are the intended beneficiaries of the policy, and parents’ opinions are likely to influence their children’s compliance with the policy.

In our research at the University of Staffordshire, we conducted paired interviews with parents and their ten- or 11-year-old children. First, they were asked about the benefits and risks of cell phone use at school. Second, a number of different school mobile phone policies were shared with them and they gave their views on them.

The results suggest that children and their parents shared the view that phones were important for keeping in touch. They were also aware of the disadvantages of having phones at school, including bullying and the risks of being able to access the internet. Neither parents nor children supported policies involving outright bans.

We found that the children contributed to the discussions in a very mature way, sometimes surprising the parents with the awareness of the risks they were running. In addition, in collaboration with their parents, they were able to come up with ideas for optimal policies and solutions to help implement them. They demonstrated a good awareness of the appropriate and inappropriate use of cell phones at school. A parent-child duo suggested a “phone monitor” role that would have a class cell phone that children and parents could use to contact during the school day when needed.

Involving children and parents in policy development has the potential to increase the effectiveness and enforceability of policies – and may even reduce problematic children’s phone use more broadly. Consulting parents and students when developing school mobile phone policies is already recommended in Ireland.

School policies that ban cell phones in schools may be missing an opportunity to engage children and educate them about responsible cell phone use.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The conversation

The conversation

Sarah Rose is affiliated with Staffordshire University and a member of the British Psychological Society

Jennifer Taylor is affiliated with Staffordshire University and is a member of the British Psychological Society.

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