Getting Schooled

by Dr. Joel Haber

Filed Under: Communication

  • I n addition to environments of learning and education, school has always been a focal point for a teen’s social life.

  • School is often the epicenter of the universe for most kids, for better or worse, and the associated social drama often gets in the way of academic instruction.

    In the past, most social interactions were limited to hallway conversations, secretly passed notes during class, during lunchtime and in the schoolyard. In our modern life however, mobile phones have put teen socializing on a completely different level. Just visit a high school between classes or during break times. It's a sea of teenagers moving forward with their heads buried in their mobile phones, furiously sending texts before their next school-related activity.

    Now, students have the entire world at their fingertips via mobile phones. Any friend, anywhere, can be engaged immediately through texting and instant chat.

  • And while this readily available communication has many benefits, especially for safety and convenience, it can present problems when it comes to how kids use their phones in school.

  • The Pros

    Mobile phones allow parents to keep tabs on their kids without being too intrusive. You can get in touch with them when necessary, your kids can contact you in an emergency, and you essentially have a line of connection that is open and ready throughout the day. You no longer feel like you're sending your kids to an isolated place, unreachable for six to eight hours a day when they go to school. Rather, you always have a direct link to them.

    Furthermore, our kids reciprocate this sentiment of connection. In their mobile devices they have a secure link to the "safety net" of home. No matter what is going on at school, mom or dad is just a simple call away.

  • The Challenges

    Safety and parental relationships notwithstanding, mobile phones can pose many challenges in schools if ground rules are not established early on.

    In class, texting not only is an impediment to learning for the person sending the text (and the recipient, if another student), it's extremely distracting to teachers and the classroom. If students are texting during instruction, how can they possibly learn their subject material?

    Beyond the distractions and obvious ramifications of the activity itself, using mobile phones in schools also opens doors to several other complicated issues. The devices can be targets of theft for students, vehicles for rumor spreading and harassment, and methods for cheating. In the latter case, kids are sending and receiving test answers via text, accessing the Internet for answers, taking pictures of tests for themselves and others, and keeping cheat-sheets on their phone’s internal notepads.

  • A recent LG survey revealed that 32% of teens know someone who has sent, received, or forwarded a text message to help someone cheat in class; and 13% of teens admitted that they have helped someone cheat by sending, receiving or forwarding a text.

  • What To Do About It

    To begin, parents must be aware of how kids use mobile devices at school, as well as be open to the idea that their own children might be using their phones irresponsibly. The survey mentioned above noted that 13% of teens are actually cheating via mobile phones, but the survey also revealed that only 2% of parents believe their own teen is involved in such behavior.

    Once this gap is bridged and parents acknowledge the issues, it's crucial to learn your children's school's mobile phone policies. From private to public school, policies vary from nonexistent to draconian. If you know the extent to which your kids can use their phones at school, you'll be better equipped to teach them how to use their devices responsibly.

    Also, check your child's mobile phone bill for time of activity and let your child know that you will be doing this periodically. If you see many texts being sent during class time on weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., you can confidently venture that your child is spending too much time on his or her phone and not paying enough attention in class.

    Next, ask your kids about mobile phone usage at their schools. Talk to them about cheating via texting, phone theft, cyber bullying, and other issues. Try to determine if they’ve been a victim or perpetrator of any of these behaviors.

    But when you approach your children, make it an open discussion and refrain from judging or interrogating them. If teenagers know that we understand the nuances of mobile phone usage and texting at school, they'll respect our position more. Furthermore, if we create a safe space for them to talk, instead of instilling fear of reprisal or punishment, they’ll be more likely to be forthright with us.

    When you more clearly understand where your child stands, you can give them more positive and effective guidance. You can suggest phone-free times at school, where they turn off their phones except for snack and lunch periods. Also, you can emphasize that rules of morality and ethics apply just as strongly to mobile phones as they do to the "real world." Cheating via texting is not acceptable, and it's as wrong as copying from your neighbor's paper (i.e., the "old school" method of cheating).

    Ultimately, getting your children to curtail mobile phone usage at school involves getting them to think about their behavior. If they can take a small step back and consider the consequences of these distractions, and how they are detracting from their valuable education, they might gain better judgment and be more responsible. (To see more content about thinking before using mobile phones and texting, see LG’s "Give It a Ponder" campaign at www.giveitaponder.com.)

    1LG Text Ed Survey, 2010

Filed Under: Communication

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joel Haber

Dr. Joel HaberThe official bullying consultant to the American Camp Association, Dr. Haber leads popular workshops and conference sessions on bullying and violence prevention nationwide.

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