Why Kids Shouldn't Take Their Cell Phones to School

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
Two boys looking at a cellphone in a school cafeteria

Compassionate Eye Foundation / Steven Errico / Getty Images 

Parents claim that a cell phone keeps their kid safe, but I'd argue it rather disconnects and distracts. Here's why kids should leave their phones at home.

With a new school year beginning, many children are heading off to school with cell phones in their pockets. I hear about these phones from my young, technology-deprived children, who come home wondering why they can’t also have an iPhone with cool games on it.

My reasons don’t change; in fact, I become more certain and committed to my anti-phones-for-young-kids beliefs the more I read and hear. I tell my kids, who are seven and four, that they can have a cell phone when they’re old enough to buy it and pay for a monthly plan themselves. That will be a while yet.

Why do my husband and I insist on such an old-fashioned, unpopular approach to cell phones?

Cell Phone Self-Control

First of all, I don’t think that young kids (I'm talking about those in elementary school) possess the self-control not to engage with their cell phones while attending school. School is the all-important purpose of their lives right now, so why would I give them any device that would make it harder than it already is to learn? No matter how mature a child may be, the temptation of technology is hard to resist; we Millennial adults should know that better than anyone else. It’s easier not to place that burden on my kid at all, rather than expect him to know how to handle it. Says Canadian non-profit research group, Media Smarts, “Even if a student does not own a phone themselves their presence in the classroom may cause distraction.”

Distracted Learning

Second, teachers don’t need more distractions in the classroom. Their job is hard enough. A 2015 research paper by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics found that student test scores improve by 6.4 percent when cell phones are banned at schools and that there are no significant academic gains when the ban is ignored.

Is It Fair?

Third, some people argue that allowing cell phones in schools equalizes the playing field, but I disagree. The Mayor of New York is one such person, having lifted a ten-year ban on cell phones in schools in March 2015, with the noble intent of “reducing inequality.” The Centre for Economic Performance has found this reasoning to be flawed:

“Low-achieving students are more likely to be distracted by the presence of mobile phones, while high achievers can focus in the classroom regardless of the mobile phone policy. This also implies that any negative externalities from phone use do not impact on the high achieving students. Schools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap by prohibiting mobile phone use in schools, and so by allowing phones in schools, New York may unintentionally increase the inequalities of outcome.”

Encourage Social Interaction

Finally, why would I give them something that makes it more difficult to connect with other students? Go to any public place and you’ll see the majority of people huddled over their miniature screens, lost in a private online world. I want something different for my kids. I want them to be forced to interact with fellow students, to make new friends, to engage in conversation, to play physically, to learn how to read facial expressions. I also want my kids to be able to approach adults, even strangers, and ask for assistance if they need it – without relying on a cell phone and me to get them out of a bind.

Media Smarts found that 20 percent of grade 4 students and half of grade 11 students sleep with their phones in case they receive a message in the night. Even 35 percent of students worry that they spend too much time online, which should be setting off parents’ alarm bells right now. A big part of teaching digital literacy should be teaching our children when and how to turn off their phones, put them away, and leave them at home -- or not even giving them to our young kids, which is my preferred approach.