How to keep your kid's cell phone from becoming a distraction in the classroom and beyond

Posted: 6:20 AM, Aug 28, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-28 13:16:22Z
How to managing kids and their cell phones
How to managing kids and their cell phones

As kids head back-to-school, many of them will be bringing smartphones with them. But new research shows the technology can be a problem in a variety of ways. So, getting a handle on their tech use is key -- both at school and at home.


Most teens these days are never far from their phones.




"I would say I use my cell phone at least 12 to 14 hours a day," said Mackenzie Fields -- a student at Berkley High School.


When asked how often rising junior Lucas Schodowski uses his smartphone in the classroom, he said, “Probably like -- if the class is an hour - like 10 or 15 minutes."


Berkley High School Principal Andy Meloche started his education career as a math instructor and remembers the advent of phones at school.


"Back when I was a teacher, we use to collect cell phones. And that was 5 years ago," he recalled.


Meloche said he’s seen cell phone use sky-rocket among students since then.


To get a handle on cell phone use in the classrooms, he surveyed teachers last year about the trend.


Together they came up with a plan – the Technology Usage Stoplight.

The laminated poster will be placed in each room in a prominent location this fall.


A hand points to the current classroom conditions when it comes to cell phones – No, Ask Your Teacher, or Yes.


"Teachers have that choice as to how they want students to use their phone, and then every single classroom will have one of these so students see a consistent message classroom-to-classroom,” explained Meloche.


Having technology in the classroom can enhance learning.


Meloche gave the example of watching Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in a video on their smartphone in addition to reading it in a book.


But researchers at Rutgers University say smartphones can reduce the ability to think to a person’s full potential -- causing problems with retention.


And in another study from Stanford University, researchers found that intense multi-tasking decreases the efficiency of completing a given task.


"We think we're that really good at multi-tasking, that we can be on our phone and pay attention to what a teacher is saying. And the research shows again and again we're not,” said Dr. Erin Henze – an Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Detroit Mercy.


Dr. Henze said attention is crucial for learning, and getting a handle on tech use starts at home.



"Have tech-free days or tech-free times of the day to really engage with each other,” she explained. “Kids need not just screen time and device time, but opportunities to do other things -- play, have face-to-face social interaction, be creative.”


Dr. Henze’s advice for parents is a four-prong approach:


  1. Model appropriate use - Parents need to set the example for how to use technology in the home. Kids learn from them first. And if the parent can’t tear themselves away from their smartphone, it’s easy to see how the child could model that behavior as well.
  2. Turn devices off during homework -To help teens focus, parents should set a rule that smartphone devices and tablets must be turned off during homework time. If not, the sound of alerts or notifications can continually draw your child’s attention away from the homework tasks that need to be completed.
  3. Stick to teacher-recommended apps - Proceed with caution when using learning apps not recommended by the teacher. Some can be more of a distraction than a helpful teaching aid.
  4. Set appropriate limits for screen time – This may seem like an easy one, but it’s crucial. The best plan is to work with your teenager to set those appropriate limits.


Dr. Henze said parents and teachers should also be on the lookout for warning signs that a child might be too attached to their cell phone.

You might see things like anxiety, depression, irritability, or body image issues.

If so, schools are an excellent place to access mental health professionals like school psychologists who can help out.