The average child in the United States receives their first cell phone around the age of 10. Some kids receive theirs before the age of 8, while others are teens before having one. In a Niche survey on the subject, only 1% of respondents said that they’d never owned a cell phone, compared to 42% who said they got their first cell phone between the ages of 14 to 17.
Cell phones aren’t just for adults these days. With the structure of our society shifting toward information access, children must have resources available to them to be competitive at school. Teens might need a phone for their after-school job. Much like a driver’s license has become a symbol of responsibility earned, that is how parents and kids treat cell phones.
Every child is different because maturity levels differ widely. Some teens may not be responsible with their phone, but some 8-year-olds could handle the technology with proper care. That is why the debate regarding these cell phones in the classroom pros and cons are essential to review.
List of the Pros of Having Cell Phones in the Classroom
1. Cell phones offer families added convenience with communication.
When kids have a cell phone, they can take with them to school. It becomes a useful communication tool. If a parent is running late to pick the child up, they can text their kids to let them know what is going on. It is a tool which allows children to inform their parents of where they are or who they’re hanging out with that day. It helps you coordinate pickup times, juggle multiple schedules, and ensure everyone gets to where they need to be.
2. It offers a measure of safety for children who are fearful.
School shooting statistics in 2018 reached the highest levels since 1970 in the United States, with 82 incidents taking place. An incident in Parkland, Florida took the lives of 17 people. Lockdown drills are part of the usual school routine, just as air raid drills were a generation before. Kids are legitimately scared to go to school. When they have a cell phone, it gives them a chance to contact emergency authorities if an incident occurs at school. Although the odds are that a child won’t go through an incident like this, having this tool makes it easier to get through the day.
3. Cell phones are fantastic research tools in the classroom.
When students have access to a cell phone, they may have instant access to the data available on the Internet. Kids who are curious about specific subjects can perform research instantly from their desk, table, or assigned station. Teachers can encourage cell phone use in the classroom by assigning specific tasks to students too. By assigning students to groups, then using a cell phone brought by a student, this tool offers unique ways to learn that may help kids become passionate about their education.
4. It offers a verification tool to students.
Students rely on the knowledge and wisdom of their teachers and textbook authors for a quality education. With the prevalence of misinformation available today (some would call it “fake news”), there is a need for data verification in the classroom today. Cell phones offer this as a possibility. They can look up something that their teacher or textbook told them to see if the information is accurate. The process of looking up the information then lodges that data into the learning centers of the brain, making it easier to recall in the future.
5. Students have access to more information thanks to cell phones.
The information access for students before cell phones entered the classroom was limited to encyclopedias, textbooks, and personal knowledge. You had to study these texts or listen to teachers to begin learning about specific subjects. Thanks to the presence of this technology, complete access to any subject is possible at schools today. Students can learn supplemental information about anything to include in their assignments.
6. Information access takes on new formats.
Older generations used to play different games in their classroom to facilitate learning. Hangman, charades, Bingo, Pictionary, and puzzles were often used to encourage student engagement with the curriculum. Cell phones take that concept to a different level, creating games where individual skill development happens while the intrinsic rewards of playing inspire higher levels of retainment. This technology can even help students learn new a new language thanks to free lessons provided by companies like LingoHut.
7. Cell phones create opportunities for social learning.
Being connected to friends through social media creates numerous positives for students today. It can be useful when engaging in homework collaboration. Kids can play games together to foster stronger bonds of communication. It connects kids who may not be able to see each other regularly. When there is a focus on the positive aspects of communication, mixed with some parental controls to limit content access, this advantage of using cell phones in the classroom is one to consider strongly.
8. It facilitates an individualized learning process.
The learning process must be highly individualized for it to be effective. Some students require silence to focus on the information presented to them. Others need music or white noise to stay on task. When mobile devices like cell phones are permitted in the classroom, they can be useful in the elimination of distractions. Although some kids will be distracted by the other options that this technology provides (games, social media, miscellaneous apps), with proper supervision, the benefits often outweigh the negatives.
9. Cell phones offer video learning access to the classroom.
Instead of investing in smart boards or video playback devices, schools can implement a bring-your-own-device policy for cell phones. This access creates opportunities for video learning that may not be available otherwise. Specific lessons are possible with this technology, creating an individualized learning environment even with 20+ students around. Headphones even reduce audio distractions for the other students in the classroom.
List of the Cons of Having Cell Phones in the Classroom
1. Children gain access to questionable content on cell phones.
Matt Walsh notes on his blog that child-on-child sexual assaults are increasing. One factor for this may be the exposure to pornography that is available to kids who don’t have content protections installed on their devices. Among parents of children between the ages of 13 to 17, only 16% said they used parental controls to restrict cell phone use. Just 39% said they used those controls for the online activities of their teen.
Compared to computer use, those figures are staggering. 55% of parents use monitoring controls on their laptops or desktop computers at home. To avoid many of the negatives found with cell phone use, smartphones must be treated like the computers they are.
2. Cell phones open the possibility of cyberbullying.
We all encounter bullies throughout our lives. The issue with bullying will never likely go away, as most bullies act out because of their own uncertainties. When kids have access to a cell phone, then they are exposed to cyberbullying 24/7. Online apps, social media platforms, and other communication tools make it possible for cyberbullying to magnify its effect in ways that never happened before cell phones became widespread.
Having a cell phone in school increases the likelihood of bullying because of this access. Texts, voicemail, and online posts create new contact points which never existed before. When a bullying post is online, there’s a good chance it will stay there forever.
3. There is a cost factor to consider.
The December 2018 rates for cell phone purchases through T-Mobile have the cost of a simple flip phone at $75. Purchasing an entry-level smartphone is $150. Even when these costs are broken into affordable monthly payments over 2+ years, there is the data plan and other elements of cell phone ownership to consider. Having cell phones in schools creates a divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” from a wealth perspective. Those who can afford this tool can use it for educational purposes. That creates a learning advantage over those who are struggling financially.
23% of students who own a cell phone do not have a smartphone in their possession. Only 65% of rural homes, compared to 83% of urban or suburban homes, own a smartphone which could be used in school. Unless districts fund cell phones for everyone, cost factors create education gaps with this technology.
4. Cell phones may create health concerns for students.
Children who receive exposure to the blue like produced by cell phone screens may have hyperactivity behaviors triggered. This technology provides a distraction in the classroom too, as most kids see a phone more as an entertainment device instead of it being a learning tool. Exposure to electronic screens can disrupt sleep patterns, create behavioral issues, and impact student weight if the device is used for too long.
Kids who use their cell phones at school, combined with other technologies, may spend over 10 hours each day in front of a screen of some type.
5. The use of a cell phone can be addicting to some students.
Cell phones offer kids access to social media platforms, talk, text, games, and much more. For some children, access to this tool is more than a distraction. It can become an addiction that impacts their learning potential and elements of their home life.
90% of teachers who have cell phones in the classroom say that the number of students with emotional challenges increased. Teens who spend 5 hours on a cell phone have a 71% higher risk of suicide compared to those who spend one hour per day. Even for eighth graders, there is a 27% higher depression risk with social media use through a cell phone.
6. Cell phones create risks outside of the classroom too.
According to statistics reported by TeenSafe, 58% of automotive crashes involve driver distractions for teens. 25% of all accidents in the U.S. are caused by texting while driving, resulting in almost 400,000 injuries. Texting behind the wheel is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.
AAA released a poll showing that 94% of teen drivers know about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, but 35% admit that they still choose these dangerous behaviors anyway. Teens are four times more likely than an adult to be in an accident or near-miss because of talking or texting on their phone. In 2016, 263 teens were killed because of distracting driving.
7. Cell phones open up a world of sexual predator contacts with kids.
Safewave published statistics about teen cell phone use and unwanted contacts with strangers. They found that 1 in 5 teens in the U.S. who are on the Internet regularly have received an unwanted communication involving sexual solicitation. Only 25% of the kids who had someone contact them for sex told their parents about the issue. Because 3 out of 4 kids above the age of 12 have regular access to a cell phone, contacts through social media platforms, text, and apps have a chance to rise.
Some kids are even meeting the people who contact them. 8% of teens say they met someone in real life when they met them online. 16% have said they’ve considered meeting someone.
8. It changes how kids perceive life when they have a cell phone.
We often think of our online communications as a sort of “Internet diary,” except that is not the case. Most people only share the good things that happen to them throughout the day. The regular issues of life are then ignored. That structure creates the perspective that everyone else has a “perfect” life since each child deals with concerning issues every day in some way. That disconnect can lead to behavioral issues, distrust of their teachers, or concerns about the curriculum that is unwarranted. Cell phones in classrooms must be seen as tools, not a form of record-keeping.
9. Cell phones in the classroom may encourage cheating.
It only takes one search engine result to find an answer. If cell phones are permitted in classrooms during quizzes or testing, the temptation to cheat on an unknown answer may be too high for some students to overcome.
USA Today reports that one in three children in the United States uses a cell phone (or another device) to cheat. 60% of teens say they know or have seen others using connected devices in the classroom to cheat on exams or quizzes. Even school-owned devices created opportunities to cheat, with 54% of students saying they could access outside sides, including social media, on mobile devices that weren’t their own.
These cell phones in the classroom pros and cons cannot provide an answer one way or the other about allowing this technology in schools. Some students may find it beneficial. Others may find it to be too distracting. With gaps in use coming from rural, small school districts, as well as impoverished urban areas, there are legitimate concerns about learning gaps occurring when using this technology. The bottom line is this: it is up to each teacher to decide if using cell phones benefits the lessons they teach.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.