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06 September 2019

Phones Buzz in Class—With Texts From Mom and Dad

Phones Buzz in Class—With Texts From Mom and Dad - Schools are instituting phone bans to cut down on classroom distractions; ‘My mother texts me all the time’
By Julie Jargon, wsj.com, Updated 3 Sept. 2019 - extracts from article

Illustration: Veronica Grech
Cellphone usage in class is getting so out of control that some schools are locking up students’ phones during the day. Here’s a notification for you parents: You’re partly to blame.

Students, teachers and administrators say parents light up their kids’ phones throughout the day with text messages. Students tell me they feel obligated to reply to their parents quickly, even if the text isn’t urgent.

“Out of all people, you’d think your parents don’t want you on your phone,” said Darya Iranmanesh, a 16-year-old in Lexington, Mass. “My mother texts me all the time.”


In Southern California, the seventh- and eighth-graders who share the La Cañada High School campus began following a no-phone policy last year. Principal Jarrett Gold added office staff in anticipation of handling more calls from parents who could no longer reach their kids directly. The number of calls didn’t increase, however, suggesting that parents weren’t reaching out to their kids with real emergencies.

“It was usually, ‘Uncle Jim is picking you up today, not me,’ and that can wait until 3 p.m.,” Dr. Gold said.

Even before the new policy, the school experimented with having kids place their phones in pouches, and the teachers could hear them buzzing throughout class. They called it “the beehive.”

When teachers glanced at the phones periodically, they noticed a lot of the texts were from parents. Now, students are required to simply keep their phones out of sight—in backpacks or at home—and if they are caught with them, the devices get confiscated.

Dr. Gold provided parents at his school with a Q&A about the policy along with research on how distracting phones can be in class. He said the response from parents and kids has been positive. Teachers are reporting that students are more focused in class.

A 2017 study published in the journal “Educational Psychology” found that college students who attended classes where cellphones and other electronic devices were permitted for nonacademic reasons scored lower on exams than students who didn’t have access to devices.

Parents across the country told me that a major reason they want their children to have their phones accessible in class is because of the fear of being unable to contact their children in the event of a school shooting. Dr. Gold said he has heard the same concern. He told parents that the safety and security consulting firm his school works with said that distractibility can be a problem in an active shooter situation and that the best thing students can do in such an emergency is to focus on instructions from their teacher on how to stay safe.


After piloting the phone lockup in 13 classes last year, San Mateo High rolled it out schoolwide this fall. Mr. Gelb said early feedback from teachers indicates students are more engaged during class and more social with each other during lunch. In an anonymous survey of teachers after the first week in session this new year, one teacher said, “The kids suddenly seem younger. Or rather, maybe they just seem like what kids used to seem like.”


Write to Julie Jargon at julie.jargon@wsj.com


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