Kids aren't far behind adults in knowing exactly where their phones are at all times, and checking theirs at all hours of the day. Yet, when kids spend a good chunk of time at school, the question rises for staff about how cell phones can affect their students in the classroom, and whether it's a good or bad thing.
Although American schools haven't rolled out a unified policy banning or permitting cell phones in class, there are a number of sound arguments for not allowing them.
10 Cons of Having Cell Phones in Schools
With technology becoming more of a teaching element in schools, the question about cell phone use frequently gets brought up. While there's a grab bag of positive and negative things that come with students being able to whip out their phones at any time of the day, there are some specific cons you might never have thought about before.
They Can Be a Distraction
At the end of the day, the purpose of school is to learn, and research shows that cell phones might be hindering students' concentration. According to a 2010 study from Pew Research Center, 64% of students say they've texted in class and 25% have made or taken a call. And it's not just talking to others. That same study noted that 46% of students play games and 23% access social networks on their phone at any time.
More recently, a 2016 study assessing the impact cell phone bans have on student test scores found that students' results on important exams increased by 0.07 standard deviations on average after the bans were implemented.
If students get bored in class, it doesn't take much for them to get their cell phone out and play some games or endlessly scroll on TikTok. If students don't have access to cell phones, they have one less thing to get distracted over. And, given how much stuff you can do on a cell phone - the possibilities for distraction are endless.
Social Media Trends Can Disrupt Learning
If you've walked through the hallways of a middle school or high school in the past few years, you'll see kids filming things everywhere. TikTok is the hot button app right now, and students will break out a TikTok trend at the drop of a hat, including during a lesson.
There's no time or place in the school day that's exempt from being interrupted by some silly dance or challenge. Because documenting and posting your participation in something is almost more important than just doing the thing, cell phones are a vital piece of the disruption puzzle.
They Can Make Cheating Easier
Obviously, kids can't chat each other up in the middle of an exam, but the concept of "passing notes" has made it to the digital age, thanks to texts, notes apps, and galleries. Kids can text each other when teachers aren't looking about answers to the questions, and they can update their friends - or even the whole class - on some of the harder answers with a quick trip to the bathroom.
Cell phones are also advancing and improving faster than teachers can keep up with. Catching cheaters isn't as easy as finding them writing the answers on the inside of a water bottle label or carving out the scantron sheet pattern onto a large eraser.
Just take look at the statistics on how cell phones make cheating easier; a study from The Benenson Strategy Group in 2009 stated that 35% of the surveyed students have used cell phones to cheat. Additionally, 41% of students admit to storing notes on phones to use during tests and 46% of teens admitted to texting friends about answers.
The possibilities for cheating and copying are literally limitless when students have access to cell phones in class. And tech being such a big presence in the curriculum (school-provided laptops and mandatory online assignments, for example), makes it easier than ever for students to use dishonest methods to get the grades they want.
Expensive Phones Pose a Theft Threat
Cell phone theft is a problem in America, with 3.1 million cellphones being stolen in 2013, according to Consumer Reports. In 2020, the Prey Project released its second Mobile Theft & Loss Report, which claimed from its user's experiences that common robbery, which includes cell phone theft, went up by 10.51%.
Now add still developing brains, hormones, and flexible social status to the mix, and you can have the perfect combination for stealing. Considering how expensive cell phones are today, the last thing you want to do is to tempt would-be thieves by sending your kid to school with a $1,000+ phone that makes them a target. Lockers are more likely to be broken into, for example, if perpetrators know there's something of value in there.
There's a Risk of People Taking Illicit Pictures
Kids will be kids, so with hormones raging during their school days, there's a distinct possibility that some students may take explicit pictures or videos. This is especially dangerous when students take explicit pictures of other students, violating their consent. What used to be email chains and text threads have transformed into viral social posts that can't be scrubbed from the internet. So, what can start as a cruel prank can quickly turn into something criminal.
They Can Make Cyberbullying Easier
Along the same lines, cell phones also make it easier to cyberbully, which is when a person uses electronic communication to intimidate, threaten, or humiliate a person. Not only can cell phones make it easier for rumors to spread like wildfire throughout a school, but students can also send mean or hurtful texts to others or post inappropriate pictures of students.
Data from the Cyberbullying Research in 2016 showed that 33.8% of students have been bullied in their lifetime, 11.9% have been threatened through a cell phone text and 11.1% have had a hurtful image of them posted. In addition, a whopping 25.7% have experienced one or more different types of cyberbullying.
By 2022, 49% of 15-17-year-old students polled by the Pew Research Center have experienced some form of cyberbullying. With cell phones readily available in schools, cyberbullying is a lot easier to do.
They Can Exacerbate Social Stratification
In schools, the social hierarchy is everywhere, and it affects everything. Owning the latest cell phone can mean the difference between flying under the radar and being singled out.
Ultimately, the cell phone performs as an extension of class and financial means. People with older phones are viewed (and sometimes treated) differently than their peers. This negative feedback loop only hurts everyone involved. People who want to 'fit in' lean into these social rules and look down on those who can't afford the best tech, while those who don't have access to expensive phones might struggle to find their place in the school's social sphere.
They Make Accessing Inappropriate Material Easier
While most schools have filters and regulations to block out inappropriate material, Gen Z and Gen Alpha students are more tech savvy than any generation before. Large classrooms can also make accessing inappropriate material easier. And, since every cell phone can use data to get online, students can bypass the school servers and look up whatever they want to simply by turning off the Wi-Fi.
They Can Increase Kids' Chances of Being Taken Advantage Of
If you grew up in the early 2000s, then you remember the huge internet safety movement that warned kids about the dangers of talking to strangers online. Oh, the irony of social media creating a central place for kids to interact with complete strangers all the time.
Without having fully developed brains, kids can't even conceive of the consequences that can come from DMing a totally random person. Because cell phones aren't always connected to the wi-fi, and if we're being honest, schools aren't monitoring their daily internet activity at that detailed of a level, it's so difficult to monitor kid's safety online. But, with limited access to devices that let them get online, there are fewer chances for them to be taken advantage of.
There's an Unquantified Health Risk
The EPA has regulations that discourage too much exposure to technology and allowing students to have cell phones in school can increase their screen time during the day. Cell phones give off a low level of non-ionizing radiation, for which the long-term effects at low levels are still being studied. However, letting students use their cell phones during school adds to their exposure to this type of radiation, which could in turn have increased harmful effects on their developing bodies and minds.
It's More Complicated Than a Yes or No
It's important that we don't moralize cell phones. They're just a technological tool that lets us do a myriad of things, both good and bad. Yet, as younger and younger students are bringing phones to school, it's worth thinking through the possible negative side effects that can come with it.