Cellphones in schools: Distracting, Detracting and Dumbing Down Our Kids

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about a teacher who’d made headlines for making her classroom an absolutely wifi-free zone. She did this because of the unknown health effects of EMF’s on herself and her student’s bodies. I’d love to know where she is now because she faced such resistance a couple years ago. Apparently, she’s fighting quite the uphill battle.

You see, London School of Economics study recently that plainly shows that students fare better in testing when smartphones are banned from school. In fact, if your kid is struggling, he/she will do EVEN BETTER with a banned smartphone policy:

“We found the impact of banning phones for these students equivalent to an additional hour a week in school, or to increasing the school year by five days,” researchers Richard Murphy and Louis-Philippe Beland said. It found that following a ban on phone use, the schools’ test scores improved by 6.4%. The impact on underachieving students was much more significant — their average test scores rose by 14%. “The results suggest that 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,” the economists said. ~ by Ivanna Kottasova, CNN Money

I bet you can guess where I stand on the subject of allowing EMF’s in the classrooms near developing bodies and brains of vulnerable adolescents. Geometry is hard enough to follow without having the distraction of Facebook at your fingertips – especially if you are a teenager with underdeveloped sense of self-control. My girls used the pay phone at school just fine if they needed me.

Veteran teacher Steve Gardiner says:

“Addiction is a strong word, but it accurately describes the dysfunctional behavior exhibited by teenagers in my high school English classroom when I ask them to put away their cellphones…In a career that spans 38 years, I have not seen any single diversion that so distracts students from reading, writing, thinking, and working…In much the same way a chemical dependency controls an addict’s life, my students’ cellphones control their lives. Students claim they can read and listen to music at the same time. They claim they can do math and text simultaneously. Numerous research studies state otherwise. The ability to multitask with a cellphone is an illusion. With a phone in front of them, students’ thinking is fragmented, as is all their work.” ~ EdWeek.org

Well, cellphones in the classroom are in the news again. No surprise here. The verdict is in: Grades and test results are suffering. I fear gadgets are inciting a sort of mass ADHD effect…and this TIME article says there is a sort of correlation:

“ADHD is 10 times more common today than it was 20 years ago,” said Dimitri Christakis, the George Adkins professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Although it is clear that ADHD has a genetic basis, given that our genes have not changed appreciably in that time frame, it is likely that there are environmental factors that are contributing to this rise.”Part of the problem is the fragmented, action-packed nature of electronic media. Christakis found that faster-paced shows increased the risk of attention issues. The brains of children adapt to that speed, so when they’re forced to work in the slower pace of life, they often struggle to pay attention because it’s less stimulating and rewarding.

If EMF pollution and failing grades and test scores weren’t enough, SchoolSecurity.org details more systemic reasons for keeping phones away from the classroom. It’s not just an errant ringing phone disrupting a lesson either.  Cellphones and texting can make it easy to cheat and take pictures of exams. Texting can contribute to rumors and bullying culture. Untraceable bomb threats can be placed via cellphone from inside the school. Cellphones can actually hinder a school emergency response during a crisis. You can’t convince me the classroom is any place for cellphones. I can’t even imagine being a teacher in today’s age, taking time out from my lesson to be the cellphone police. Classroom management has to be hard enough.

Teachers and communication experts suspect there is a link to the incoming tidal wave of social anxiety due to the ever-increasing numbers of adolescent owners of smart phones. There was a huge increase of ownership of iPhones from 2010 to the present in that age group. Young teens and tweens who are already nervous with social interaction only seem to get worse with smart devices.

What do you do? Do you insist that your employees keep their phones inside their desks? What is your work policy? Do you tell your kids to never touch their phone during a lesson? What is your local school’s policy on smartphones in the classroom? Have you ever had a good experience with a self-imposed digital detox? We’d love to hear from you. We will leave you with some good advice of mindfulness here at SaferTech:

“In order to pay more attention in class — or even outside of school — I recommend trying to obstruct your habits,” says Jesper Aagaard. For example, turn your cellphone or tablet off, or at least put it in airplane mode. Then you won’t wind up checking texts or using social-media sites without thinking. Closing your laptop or tablet and putting your phone away more often could be good advice even outside the classroom. Stresses Harrison: “You’re going to miss out on a whole new and exciting world if you can’t get your head out of your phone screen.”