Why mobile phone bans in secondary schools doesn’t work

28th June, 2018

Control and choice come high on the list of priorities for most teenagers and so does socialising and being up to date in today’s world of new media. A blanket ban on the use of mobile phones is likely to meet with resistance, cause conflict and most probably will give school staff a lot of extra work.

The management of students’ mobile phone usage requires an ‘and/both’ approach rather than an ‘either/or’ one. In other words, students need guidelines and boundaries, for sure, but they also require choices and opportunities to manage their own mobile phone use.

Teachers, school administrators and Local Authority staff need to take into account the developmental stage and related challenges and opportunities of teenagers. In my experience and according to research and literature, e.g. Erickson, Blos and Loevinger, to name a few, it is a teenager’s job to establish themselves as functional, choice-making, increasingly independent individuals. If they are subject to blanket bans on phones throughout the time they’re in school, about which they have no say then some of them are definitely going to engage in subversive behaviour such as sneaking phones into school, finding places to use them and creating head-to-head situations with people in authority.

If we take a solution-focused approach to this issue, which is always my preferred starting point for any complex situation and behaviour/s, it will be helpful to consider the positive reasons for mobile phone use by secondary school students. These include:

  • Staying in touch with and communicating with others, for example, it is possible that a friend or family member outside school needs this contact
  • Accessing information, for example, there is a wealth of factual information on the Internet, which can be located and absorbed relatively quickly and in fact many teachers capitalise on this
  • To be entertained. Not all young people find school engaging and interesting. In fact the most common adjective I hear used in relation to school from students who are experiencing difficulties is “boring”
  • Presenting themselves to others in such a way that they feel positive self regard and, very importantly a sense of belonging, control and achievement

There are other points but what strikes me about the above is that it is exactly the same for adults and this leads me to the main point I want to make. The adults in teenagers’ lives are hugely influential for many reasons but something that can be overlooked is that they are the models or examples of how to behave and conduct oneself in the world. In my ideal world all the adults would be aware and constructively critical of their own behaviour and they would also be honest. If teachers and parents/carers and other adults involved with teenagers could have conversations with the young people about their own mobile use, the ways in which they manage this and actively share strategies that work, for example, being mindful of context and situation, taking regular breaks from technology and actively trying to have direct, face-to-face interactions with other people in their immediate contexts the idea of ‘blanket bans’ on mobiles in secondary schools wouldn’t even arise.

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