Our school's current cell phone policy states: "Middle school students are able to use their phones before school and at lunch in designated areas in the middle school campus. Students may not take pictures, video or make phone calls at any time during the school day." Other than the listed restrictions stated above, this policy enables students unrestricted use of their cell phones during their lunch break. Based on our own observations and what our own children have told us, many students are spending virtually their entire lunch break with their heads buried in their phones playing games, looking up You Tube videos, Instagram, texting each other pictures, etc. The result: less exercise, less eye contact, less laughing and social interaction. Because of the addictive and obsessive natures of games they are playing and social media, kids are not motivated to run around, play, and interact on a personal level when given the option to sit and play on their phones instead.
This is shame and we believe this use of cell phones at school has a number of negative impacts. Of course, there is the obvious reduction in exercise. But more importantly, we feel an extremely important part of the middle school experience is socializing and interacting with other students. These inter-personal skills do not always come easy, especially at the middle school age. However, they are vital and it is important for our kids to learn to acquire them. Cell phone use actually provides an easy and convenient avenue for students to withdraw and isolate themselves. In fact those kids who tend to be more introverted are probably the most susceptible. Today, the school setting is more critical than ever for fostering an environment which encourages students to interact with each other on a personal, face-to-face level. This personal interaction is so important in developing students’ social and communication skills as well as developing friendships and personal connections. Allowing kids unrestricted use, also opens the door for inappropriate material to be shared. Even if one student's parents remove all social media, you tube, and other apps, his or her friends may have access. Parents may be able to control their own child's phone, but not others. Because laws have made it illegal for adults to look at a student's phone without permission, this makes it difficult to monitor what students are doing on their phones at school. It makes most sense just to restrict their use overall at school, with certain reasonable exceptions.
This cell phone use also impacts our students in the classroom. It is also hard to transition from being entertained by a video or game on one's phone back to class for a test. Some kids rely on the physical movement and exercise they get from their break to be able to focus in class but many don’t have the discipline to remove themselves from a group of friends playing on their phones when this may seem like a more fun option at the time. Some teacher's have noted more distracted students and behavioral issues upon returning from class from their breaks.
These impacts are not just anecdotal or based on our own observations. More and more research has shown the potential negative impact of school cell phone use on academic success as well as emotional well-being. For example, studies have shown youth who spend more time on social media have a greater likelihood of exhibiting depressive symptoms, and it is worse with middle schoolers than with high schoolers. More importantly, the same study finds that face to face time with friends strongly correlates with less depressive feelings. Creating environments that promote such interactions is a smart public health move. Recent research has also shown that schools that changed their policy from allowing cell phones to prohibiting them saw exam scores rise by 6%.
We are unsure what lead to the rule change last year. We understand monitoring cell phone usage places an additional burden on staff, but feel it is well worth the effort. It was done in the past and most other middle schools in our district (including Redwood, Los Cerritos, and Colina) continue to ban cell phone use during the school day. It is these schools’ policy that cell phones must be turned off and kept in their locker throughout the school day, but may use them in a designated area for emergencies only. We have no problem with our kids using their phones emergency purposes or to contact parents or per teacher's discretion. We merely feel that the lunch and nutrition breaks provide a unique opportunity for personal interaction and exercise which school policies should encourage as much as possible.
Please sign this petition if you agree with limiting cell phone use at our school to before and after school, for urgent situations, and at teacher's discretion (and not for free play during nutrition and lunch).