Allowing Cell Phones In School: Benefits and Risks

By Greg Howard

School leaders worldwide are asking themselves an important question these days: What are the pros and cons of school cell phone bans?

We have firsthand knowledge of how hotly debated this topic is. A recent discussion that we started on LinkedIn about student cell phone use policies drew responses from around the globe!

There are significant differences in how our discussion participants perceive student mobile device use. Many U.S.-based leaders are now embracing student device use after banning it for many years. Meanwhile, participants outside the U.S. still think of mobile devices as a potential problem that must be strictly controlled.

Let’s examine the potential impacts of these differences on our schools.

DISCUSSION STATS

At the time we wrote this post:

  • 33 school leaders had joined in on our discussion
  • 13 participants were based in the USA; 20 lived elsewhere
  • About 3/4 of our discussion participants had a mobile device use ban in place at their school
  • 100% of non-U.S. participants had a ban in place
  • Almost 2/3 of U.S. participants now allow students to use cell phones at designated times (i.e. passing periods and lunch)

THE CASE FOR BANS

Many educators worldwide still think mobile device bans are needed. Here are the most commonly cited reasons from our non-U.S. participants:

  • Potential misuse during academic examinations.
  • Cell phones perceived as “contraband,” akin to illegal substances or guns.
  • Cell phone bans seen as a means of maintaining school safety and security.

THE CASE AGAINST BANS

By contrast, many U.S. principals are now speaking out against mobile device bans. Commonly cited reasons were:

  • Too much work to police device use; the attitude commonly expressed is, “Kids are going to bring devices to school anyway, so why fight it?”
  • Storing students’ confiscated devices is a hassle.
  • Students need to be taught good online etiquette.
  • Mobile devices can be used in class for positive educational purposes.
  • It’s difficult to defend educators’ use of devices while banning their use among students.

IMPACTS OF THESE DIFFERENCES ON SCHOOLS

Several U.S.-based administrators argued that allowing devices in their schools has led to positive changes in school culture.

For example, one who spoke out against bans noted that his school had cut student use of devices during instructional times by allowing use during non-instructional times.

This story echoes that of other educators we’ve profiled. In our school fighting case study, for example, we told the story of a middle school that had a 92% year-over-year drop in students disciplined for fighting.

School leaders there found that removing their ban on student device use became an asset rather than a potential problem. With devices in hand, students could easily make anonymous text reports on fighting to their school’s CyberBully Hotline, and countless fights were prevented before they were even allowed to begin.

THE FUTURE OF DEVICES IN SCHOOLS

A few U.S. principals in our discussion contended that kids will find ways to use devices no matter what their school’s policy. They argued in favor of teaching students proper use of mobile devices instead of trying to ban them.

It may take a while for this kind of view to become commonplace, but we think it’s the way of the future. We’ve seen how having mobile devices in school has helped CyberBully Hotline clients address bullying, fighting, and more, and these kinds of benefits are simply too valuable to ignore. Moreover, with innovative learning applications being released every day, mobile devices are turning into important teaching tools in the classroom.

While many administrators view mobile devices as a potential liability, these kinds of risks can be mitigated with smart use policies, good supervision of students, and anonymous reporting programs like our CyberBully Hotline. When students know that know that bad behavior can be anonymously reported and punished at any time, they have strong incentives to use their mobile devices appropriately.

Click here to learn more about the CyberBully Hotline.

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