Back to School Cell Phone Guide for Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

Roughly one hundred years ago when I was a teacher, cell phones in the classroom weren’t an issue. Today, a phone is as integral to a student’s life as a backpack or ballpoint pen. The average age that parents give their children a cell phone has dropped to ten or eleven years old. It isn’t a question of whether a student has a phone but what they’re doing with it in the classroom.

While it’s convenient to be able to contact our kids when we’re going to be late for pick up or practice is canceled, it’s important kids understand boundaries and what responsible cell phone use looks like; back to school is a great time to review those guidelines.

  • As parents, make the boundaries clear. If it’s your child’s first phone, help them understand what your expectations are. Remind them a phone is a privilege, not a right, and if you pay the bill, you call the shots. Determine ahead of time what the consequences will be if the phone is lost or gets broken, if they have permission to download apps and music, and what the consequences will be for misuse or disregarding the rules. Consider a Cellphone Use Contract, especially if it’s your child’s first phone.
  • Again, if it’s your child’s first phone, make sure emergency contacts are programmed in and your child knows who to call in an emergency. School violence is a tragic reality and children should know the emergency plan should they find themselves in danger traveling to or from school or while on school property.
  • Follow the school rules. Many schools allow kids to have phones in the classroom but what happens within individual classrooms varies. What’s allowable in 12th grade will likely be a far cry from what’s allowed in 5th grade. My daughter’s high school math teacher allowed kids to use their phones as calculators and another teacher allowed them to use their phones for in-class research projects. Go to the school or school district’s website and pull up the relevant phone policy to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Remind your kids they should never text, send email, use apps or configure the phone’s GPS while they’re driving, riding their bike or skateboarding. Accidents can happen even while walking and texting, so remind them to be mindful of their surroundings anytime they’re on their phones.
  • Talk to your kids about safe use of the phone’s camera. The consequences of sending inappropriate photos and videos go far beyond simply damaging someone’s reputation and could even result in criminal charges if the offense is serious enough. Make sure your kids understand that personal privacy and respect for others is important.
  • Remind your kids that the same rules that apply to web browsing at home apply to using their phones outside the house. Remind your student that websites and content that are off-limits at home are off-limits on school property as well, whether the school expressly blocks the content or not.

Some of these rules may seem arbitrary and some may not apply to your own situation, but as parents and caregivers it’s up to us to ensure our kids understand the rules we are asking them to follow.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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