To ban or not to ban: School mobile phone ban, a parent’s perspective

The mobile phones in school debate is really hot right now isn’t it? We have had a student’s response to a ban, pleading that they should be allowed, as this technology is going to be a vital part of her future. And she isn’t wrong! We had had a Principal’s response saying there is no place for social media in school and technology needs to be managed. And she isn’t wrong! So, what has been missed in this debate? Plenty!

Let’s start with the school setting. My children also go to an Independent school that has a mobile phone “ban”. The rules say a phone will be confiscated and can be collected from the office at the end of the day if one is spotted at school. Does this happen? No. It is threatened? Yes. The problem with a ban is it is so difficult to police. And children are slippery and clever. Do you know how I know this? Because I have first-hand experience at how clever kids are at getting around school bans!

My kids’ school is trying really hard to stay ahead of the game. They have blocked access to all social media platforms from their router so children cannot access social media from their wifi. If children want to access it they have to use their own data. My kids are stingy with their own data and need to manage it if they are going to last the month! So do you what they did? They downloaded a VPN to their phones so they could access social media via the school’s network covertly! See kids are slippery! A piece of advice from one parent to another, if you think your kids are compliant with your tech rules you need to improve your own tech knowledge!

Let’s move to a student’s perspective and the student isn’t wrong either, technology is going to be a vital part of their future. Technology is a vital part in engaging children in their learning. I have three boys who have all had periods of being compliant but disengaged learners. That means they go to school happily; they are well behaved, but they aren’t having a fire lit in their belly in any subjects. They attended to school half-baked and unenthused. Until high school where some really clever maths teachers introduced them to a myriad of app-based learning tools. The difference between book-based learning and app-based learning is it is self-paced. The app will take them as far as they are willing to go. This type of learning has made a huge difference to the learning engagement of my boys. Instead of me yelling at them at dinner time to get off Minecraft they are pleading for one more module of Mathspace.

The next piece of this argument is from a parent’s perspective. There is no doubt in my mind we as parents need to teach our children self-control. That means we need to model self-control. In our house, we identified that we had issues with self-control around our devices so as a family we installed a time management app to all of our devices and at dinner time we have to report to each other how long we have spent on it for the day. It keeps us all in check. It also allows us to justify our usage. Sometimes the boys use their phones to research, sometimes we use ours for work related items. Sometimes like right now in school holidays it is just a free for all! But we discuss it and every day we are learning about appropriate usage and how it affects our daily lives. It also doesn’t stop us banking up heaps of hours after they have gone to bed!

The biggest issue that none of us are talking about in the self-control argument is the part that developer play. Right now they have free rein to create as many neurological hooks to keep our children’s (and our) brains linked to our devices. App developers have the jump on us as consumers and deliberately create ways to circumvent our self-control. Dr Kristy Goodwin presents seminars to explain this concept to parents. Her explanation on techno tantrums was life changing to me! Rather than regulating children’s use perhaps regulating the developers would be more productive? If developers were regulated to stop building tools into apps to increase usage and instead build tools to do wellbeing checks instead, we wouldn’t be needing to have this debate at all.

Link to the original opinion pieces here and here.