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Should children be allowed to have cellphones at school?
Schools have changed drastically from when I was young, especially on the technology front, where dramatic improvements have been made. Computer learning is encouraged from a very young age and children are now being trained in the ‘global’ way of thinking. However, as with everything, there are some challenges. One of these concerns being the use of cell phones at schools. I used the internet as well as social media to determine what the common rule is on the use of cellphones in South African schools. The response was inconsistent, but there are some common denominators:
- In South Africa schools children are allowed to take their cellphone to school, but it should be off and in their school bags, only to be switched on for emergency purposes OR during break times;
- Should any child be caught using their cellphones during class, it may be confiscated (in some schools until the end of the school year);
- Some private schools in South Africa don’t allow cellphones at school at all. If a child brings one, it may be confiscated immediately.
It seems that every school makes their own rules and have their own set of consequences around this matter. It is therefore recommended that you familiarise yourself with your child’s school rules on the use of cellphones and make this an integral part of your house rules on cellphone usage. There should be absolutely no confusion and your child should know that you fully support the school on this matter. However, if you feel that the school has no real stand and that this will affect your child’s concentration or level of school work, you should override the slack school rules and make rules that your child should abide by. I was intrigued by two things: how many parents (and children) fear safety at schools and use this as their main reason for allowing cellphones VERSUS the small majority of parents (and children) that are concerned with the distraction cellphones cause during school hours and the negative effect it has on school work.
- Parents and children can stay in touch;
- In a state of emergency, children can reach their parents and parents their children;
- In dangerous situations children can contact local authorities or medical help;
- Most schools encourage internet use for purposes of researching school projects. Cellphones that have these applications can then be used to do research with. Thus, it is the low-cost option to use cellphones with internet at school than for schools to set up and pay for internet facilities;
- Many children report that their school office personnel are not approachable or do not allow use of the office phone. In these cases, cell phones are very helpful.
- Children tend to forget or choose not to turn off their cell phones in class, and ring tones or text-message alerts disrupt learning;
- Even if set on silent, cell phones can still cause distraction, since text messaging or MXit have become a high-tech method of passing notes in school;
- Overseas, children have used cellphones to call in bomb threats to schools, to avoid or condense class time;
- In the event of a real crisis, rampant cellphone use by children can overload communication systems and make them inoperable;
- Children easily spread rumours and misinformation, which can cause parents or authorities to panic unnecessary;
- Cyber bullying, sexting and pornography are a very serious offenses and children get lured into it very easily. At schools they encourage each other and brag about it;
- Phones can also be used as cheating devices during exams;
- It is nearly impossible for school personnel to monitor the use of cellphones and to restrict use for social purposes.
What can us as parents do and how can we empower our children to use their phones responsibly? Set some ground rules. Too often parents make excuses on behalf of their children for their actions and do not set the appropriate boundaries for cell phone use within the school environment. Here are some ideas:
- Start by taking your child’s age into consideration. If your child is not able to read or write yet and you feel the necessity to give them a phone, consider leaving it with the teacher rather than giving it to them;
- As for primary school learners the same rule as above can apply. Research on internet only starts a bit later and then there is no reason why children should be carrying their phones around with them;
- Older children should be fully informed about the consequences should he or she choose to disobey the school’s rules on cellphone use. Parents must also be prepared to back the school should a cell phone be confiscated because of a transgression;
- If you have a child that keeps breaking the rules, then you should confiscate their phone. Let them hand it to you before school and only allow them to get it back for a limited time each day, but only after all school responsibilities and homework have been done;
- Regularly check their accounts and histories. It will be fairly easy to see whether they are using their phones within the rules you and the school have set;
- Remember that owning a cellphone is a privilege, not a right. Your child should earn that privilege by consistent responsible behavior. If they learn to respect rules on cellphone use in school, it will never put them in a compromising position when they enter tertiary education or the work place.