Things teachers need parents to know that parents don’t want to hear

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As a public school teacher who has been dealing with other people’s children all day, every day, for the last thirteen years, I read a lot of articles about brain science, cognition, psychology, and human development. This morning I read this article from Psychology Today on why teens today have so much anxiety. It came across my Facebook page from a page for teachers that I subscribe to. The article is two years old, but I was struck by how it could have been written today–it continues to be an issue, and even an escalating crisis.

I can’t tell you how many times a day I have to tell students to put their phones away, and even confiscate students’ phones because of repeat offenses. In my classroom I have a Cell Phone Motel (“Put your phone to sleep at the cell phone motel”) where students are required to put their phones at the beginning of the class. It’s a clear, hanging shoe rack. I get the transparent one so they can see from across the room that their cell phone is still there, and not experience anxiety about not having their phone on their person. If they choose not to do it (most of them do choose not to do it), if their phone rings during class, or if they are caught using their phone during class, I cite them for a cell phone violation. It is clearly stated in our student handbook that cell phones are only to be used by students before and after school or during lunch. There is an escalation list of consequences for repeated cell phone offenses that ultimately leads to ISS (In School Suspension).

Besides being a distraction in the classroom because of the usual (texting, games, etc.), cell phones are also a source of trouble for teens that could be completely avoided if they would ignore their phones in class as they should: bullying, “Mean Girls” type stuff, etc.

Quite a few of my students are frequently in tears and have to leave the room because they managed to sneak a peek at their phone while I was helping another student only to find a bullying text that sends them into an emotional downward spiral. Putting these girls back together and getting them back on task after an incident like that takes the cooperating effort of teachers, admins, and the student’s friends. It also derails lessons and the ability of the student to get any work done.

Teachers and admins not only expect parents to enforce our cell phone policies, but we count on it. Unfortunately, 99.9% of the time the parent is the student’s accomplice and enabler in the cell phone department, undermining our instruction as well as their child’s ability to cope in school and the classroom. Because this problem only continues to get worse and not better, I am beginning to lean toward the “ban cell phones in school altogether” camp. My phone goes in my desk drawer when I’m teaching. There’s no reason in the world the students need to have their cell phones in their hands all day, and a million reasons why they shouldn’t, academically and emotionally.

All parents who allow their children to have their cell phones at school should read this article. Do yourself, your child, and your child’s teachers a favor and set solid ground rules for their cell phone use. Don’t just explain to them the reasons–model the behavior for them. You could have your teenager read this article and he’ll have a thousand reasons it doesn’t apply to him, because teenagers do not have higher reasoning skills at this age that allow them to see themselves objectively. If you are counting on your child to discipline themselves then you are setting them up for failure–they simply aren’t physiologically or emotionally able to do it at that age.

And consider your own behavior with your phone. What are you modeling for your child? What’s good for the student is good for the parent, in this case. That’s not always true, but where cell phone use is concerned it absolutely is. Many children grew up around parents who both had their phones in their hands all the time, and based on what you modeled for them they probably think that’s how things are supposed to be. Again–do yourself and your child a favor and change your own behavior with cell phone use. Model for them what you want them to do.

It’s never too late to make this kind of course adjustment. You and your child will both reap the benefits of making such a positive change.



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