Cell Phones in Schools: Yay or Nay?

By Dr. Will Henson

Many schools today are debating whether or not to allow the use of cell phones.  Some schools enforce an “Off and Away” policy for the building, while others leave it up to the individual teacher & classroom. Some schools even allow students to have full access to their phone at any time. 

In my experience as a special education consultant, cell phone use at the secondary level is a major problem.  It is especially a problem for our most impacted students who have academic and emotional struggles.  Having the phone makes it too easy for them to check out and regulate themselves through distraction, instead of focusing on their education.  Getting kids off their phones, let alone confiscating them, can be a major battle.

It’s not productive for any students, and particularly the most trauma- impacted ones, to have a cell phone policy that is unclear or inconsistently enforced. 

Here is my advice on phones:

  1. Present a school-wide policy rather than a per classroom policy.
  2. Establish a well-defined path of discipline for non-compliance.
  3. If there is a school-wide policy, then administration must be on board and ready to support teachers to enforce it.
  4. Be prepared for the long game.  Some kids will resist rules and structure around phones. It may take consistent effort and pressure.  It might require multiple calls home for support.
  5. Be very, very clear and consistent if you ever make any exceptions and allow use.  Cell phone use is highly contagious.
  6. To reduce battles, get a cell phone holder for each classroom (these are pockets kids put their phones in). Have kids check them in and out each day/period.

Cell phone use is addictive and insidious. I believe phones have no place in the classroom, and that strict policies benefit all – especially the students most impacted by trauma. A cell phone-free environment allows for better concentration, richer social interactions, and fewer confrontations with staff.

Do you have any other ideas for successfully managing cell phone use at school?

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