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How young is too young for a cell phone

I got my first cell phone at 15. I wasn’t the first kid with one, but I certainly was in the minority at that time. My brother got his when he was 14, even younger than me. My sister Brandiann had a pager in middle school. (Wow, remember when pagers were the cool thing to do?!)

At the time, having a cell phone in school was a very definite “don’t,” and teachers regularly confiscated them from students. My cell phone only ever rang in class one time. AP Calculus senior year. I remember diving at my bag and grabbing it to hit ignore so fast that I almost fell out of my seat.

Today, high school and college students are almost expected to have cell phones. I don’t know anyone in college who doesn’t have one. I also don’t know anyone in college who has a landline. It’s just a cultural thing.

But still, when my sister bought my 11-year-old nephew a cell phone for his birthday in June, I raised my eyebrows. Certainly 11 is too young for a cell phone. But then my sister told me recently, she thinks she’s going to get a family plan and put both my nephews on it with her. My nephews are 11 and 7. What 7 year old needs a cell phone?!

I was reminded of this when I read David Giffel’s column in the Beacon. He brings up the current/possible cell phone ban the Akron Public Schools is considering:

… this is also an opportunity to teach a larger and more basic lesson: What you want is not the same as what you need.

Children want cell phones. In order to keep them during the school day, they will try to convince grown-ups that they need cell phones. Most adults can see through this argument, and most adults understand that children can’t have everything they want.

If you are climbing the Alps, you need a cell phone.

If you are in fourth-period algebra, you do not need a cell phone.

If you are driving cross-country, you need a cell phone.

If you are having lunch in the cafeteria, you do not need a cell phone.

If you are an embedded reporter in Iraq, you need a cell phone.

If you are making a pit stop at your locker, you do not need a cell phone.

Grown-ups know this. They went to school in the 20th century, when children somehow managed to get through six hours of classes without a constant wireless connection to the outside world. They talked to the people around them without interrupting the conversation to talk to someone else who was not in the room.

It’s true though. There is a huge difference between wanting and needing a cell phone. And I can say from experience, cell phones are distracting, and high school students really don’t need any more distractions (what with hormones, college, parents, work, friends, life… to keep them perpetually occupied). Plus, there is the concern over cheating/passing answers to each other. If the instructor is diligent and pays 10 seconds of attention, he’ll notice a kid looking under his/her desk at a phone or heaven forbid the more obvious taking a picture of the test with his phone.

I never had a problem with cell phones or pagers being confiscated in class. They are distracting and unnecessary in class. But let high school students have cell phones. Why not in the hall ways or cafeteria at lunch? Who cares if you choose to talk to someone else then? You’re not distracting from education. As long as you get to class on time, put the ringer on silent and pay attention, who cares who you talked to between classes/at lunch?

There was mention of the cell phone ban issue in Al’s Morning Meeting, including a story from The Milwalkee Journal Sentinal about students cheating with cell phones.

What it really comes down to is this, ban them or don’t it won’t matter. As the MJS story says, “it is obvious to anyone around a high school or middle school — and sometimes even elementaries — that a vast majority of students carry them and use them frequently.” The trick will be balancing the students desire to carry them with their need to stay focused on the task at hand. Making them a forbidden fruit is not going to achieve the desired outcome.

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