French students are about to get a much-needed detox from their cellphones now that the government has banned them during school for kids 15 and younger. When will our educational system follow France’s lead?
Sadly, most schools in the United States are turning a blind eye to a looming public health crisis. What are we waiting for? A tragedy? Ten years of data? A lost generation? Not on my watch. These are my children, their peers and their friends. As a parent, I will not allow them to be guinea pigs or data points. We have to do something.
In the beginning, I did my best to embrace phone technology; after all, it is the future. I tried to let go and be open-minded, but I found myself in an education nightmare.
While some teachers are able to control cellphones in their classrooms with a variety of innovative ideas and consequences, many either cannot or will not. Enforcing phone restrictions eats into precious class time, so some tired teachers have instead begged for 20 phone-free minutes, rewarding students with unregulated “work” time for the rest of the period. Cellphones make wonderful babysitters.
Others have flocked to a disturbing, “govern yourself” policy. Instead of fighting phones, they give students the freedom to choose: Put them away and learn, or keep them out and do poorly. Imagine a typical middle school boy. Will rocks and minerals capture his attention or “Fortnite” on his phone? You don’t have to get too deep into brain research to know that he will often make the wrong choice.
So what are we left with? Lower test scores. Struggling students. Brilliant screens dulling our children’s learning, discussion and creativity.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Phones are taking an astronomical toll on the social, mental and emotional health of our students. Bullying during school has shifted online. Boys meet in the bathroom to look at porn, and girls scroll through events they weren’t invited to and cut themselves to dull the pain. Kids are airdropping nude photos during class. No wonder there is little brain capacity left for a five-paragraph essay.
Lunchrooms are strangely quiet as kids play online games or pass around gossip-worthy photos, and we wonder why kids are suffering from depression and anxiety like never before. They will never get these years back.
At my kids’ school, I have begged for a real, enforceable phone policy for the past two years. What about an over-the-door shoe pouch where phones are held during class time? How about a zero-tolerance policy where phones are taken if they are seen or heard and can be retrieved at the end of the day? I came armed with research, ideas and anecdotes, but there was always someone who could find a reason it wouldn’t work. No one was brave enough to try.
I am not sure what everyone is so afraid of. Parents could still get a hold of children if there is an emergency. Office phones are alive and well. School-owned computers and tablets can teach students how to use technology in ways that are actually educational. They will not fall behind the curve if they don’t master Instagram or Game Pigeon.
Because nothing was being done on a schoolwide level, I took matters into my own hands, purchasing a flip phone for my seventh-grader and installing an app that allows me to shut off my ninth-grader’s phone during school time. Looking back on the year, they were both grateful for a less distracted opportunity to learn.
But not every parent can or will regulate like this, so we must have policy. Public education exists to give every student a fair opportunity to learn, regardless of background, socioeconomic status or family situation, and phones — not politicians or lack of funding — are stealthily stripping that opportunity away. It’s time to take a stand.
School administrators everywhere must enact real, enforceable cellphone policies now that take phones out of classrooms and put education back in. They are responsible for the learning that does or does not take place during the seven hours students are in school and have the power to change this destructive environment. Teachers need administrative leadership and support and our children need a fighting chance to excel in this oversaturated world. We cannot wait one year longer. Our children deserve more.
Brooke Olsen Romney is a speaker and writer who lives near Salt Lake City. This column first appeared in The Washington Post.