It’s a common complaint children use to coax parents into buying a cell phone for them: “But everyone else has one!" This isn’t a good reason, however, to send your child to school with one. Security and communication issues may seem far more compelling to you. Ultimately, making your cell phone policy depends on the needs of your family, but you can't make these decisions in a bubble. Consult your school district's cell phone guidelines before laying down the law for your child.
If your afternoon schedule rivals your child's extracurricular calendar, giving her a cell phone can be useful when coordinating such logistics as drop-off and pick-up times. Knowing that your child has instant access to a phone can also give you peace of mind if she has any medical conditions, notes HealthyChildren. You may feel comforted to know that she can immediately reach you or any emergency medical personnel if she feels troubling symptoms related to a condition or medication. Being able to track her phone's GPS or knowing how to reach her in the case of a school emergency are also advantages. On the other hand, large numbers of students making phone calls can overwhelm cell phone networks and hamper assistance efforts.
Cell phones aren't going away, so a policy of allowing them in schools can help children learn how to use these devices efficiently and in enriching ways. Teachers featured in an article on Scholastic share ways that these devices have proven useful in classrooms. Teacher Carla Dolman describes using cell phones to record small group discussions so she can hear her students' thoughts and questions. Students can also use their phones to record lectures and notes and to schedule assignments and due dates into their electronic calendars.
Mastering long division or conjugating verbs is difficult enough without the distraction of a vibrating phone. When children forget to silence their phones, incoming calls and texts can disrupt a lesson and distract not only the phone's owner but also her fellow students. Classroom policies aren't necessarily enough to thwart these distractions. In one 2010 Pew study, 58 percent of teens admitted to sending at least one text during class -- and that's only at schools where phones are banned. The temptation to play a game or chat with friends may be too much for a bored child to resist.
Although students are surrounded by school staff, these adults can't monitor your child's phone use the way you can at home. Children can use their phones to access inappropriate sites and images, send or receive inappropriate messages or even use their phones to cheat on school work or seek out drugs and alcohol. In 2013, 14.8 percent of teens reported being bullied electronically during the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance of 2013. Children who have cell phones in school have the ability to send or receive cruel or threatening messages without a parent intervening.
What You Can Do
If your child's school allows cell phones and you decide to let her take a phone to school, set clear rules and expectations. Consider setting text and data limits on her phone, suggests Anita Gurian, Ph.D., of Langone Medical Center's Child Study Center. Explain that you'll be monitoring her usage and that you might want to reserve the right to look through her phone at any time without warning. Contact your cell phone carrier, as well. You may be able to set controls that dictate when your child can operate her phone. Verify that she can always call 911, no matter what controls are on the phone.