Claire Hailwood considers whether mobile phones are appropriate in the school environment

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As someone who has had the privilege of having parental responsibility for a number of teenagers through our home over the last decade, I’ve lost count of the number of phones that have been confiscated in various schools. And I continue to dismay (and be in equal measure impressed!) by the lengths that they will go to to hide their phones from staff, and the outrage they feel when they are inevitably discovered and the relevant consequences are metered out!

I do not envy any leadership in a school setting that is having to navigate, at pace, and write behaviour plans and policies around the use of phones. From the threat and presence of online bullying, the threat of viewing harmful content to the sheer distraction they can be (to all of us) it’s a challenging time for staff members too.

For teenagers there are any number of reasons why they want their phones in school. From the seemingly harmless desire to take photos that capture memories of their time in school, to wanting a way to contact an appropriate adult if needed. I have had more than one call from a distressed teenager who shouldn’t have a phone in school, but I think I was grateful they were able to access one, in order to be able to contact me when I suspect the request would have been denied at the reception desk. And there’s simply no doubt that they are a distraction to concentration, in and out of lessons.

In a recent article Alison Hammond praised her son’s school for a total ban they had brought in for mobiles phones. She noted a positive difference in her son’s presence, behaviour and approach to work when he wasn’t on his phone. I have to acknowledge that I have seen a positive impact on our kids when they have time away from their phone and can see how not having them is positive for focus, both in and out of lessons.

It’s easy to demonise this generation for their addiction to their phones. I wonder how the staff at the school would find being separated from their phone for a day? I wonder how you and I would find it? I’m not writing this about to argue strongly for a total ban or against any rules at all. As ever, I wonder if in doing so or thinking about it in those polarized terms, is actually more unhelpful.

Two things strike me as I reflect on this.

1. Balance is key for all of us.

Balance for our teenagers but also for us. We need time away from screens and anything else that consumes our time, energy and attention, even when those things are good. We must model this to our children as also we lead them in it, but also be committed to journeying with them on the why of boundaries not just the what. If we don’t, we risk alienating them and viewing obedience as success, rather than helping grow foundations from which great decision making can happen.

The Bible warns us about worshipping idols. You may not have made a plinth on which to put your phone and bow down to worship it, but any time something (or someone) becomes more important to us than God, anything that absorbs our attention, heart and imagination more than Him, risks becoming an idol in our lives. This isn’t because the thing (or person) is inherently bad, but because we’re inherently sinful and prone to putting other things before God – we too easily ‘worship’ other things than God. I suspect many of us may need to check our hearts on this – I know I’m challenged even as I sit and write this. We must go first if we’re to lead our kids with integrity.

If the challenge at school is that they can’t do without their phone (and the equivalent for us!) then perhaps there’s some exploration to be done in how to bring some more balance. If there are legitimate reasons why having a phone in school is important, then exploring that in order to decide on next steps is important too.

2. A posture of honour

Helping our children with how they appropriately respond to any restrictions in school to phones (or any number of other things they may disagree with – uniform policy is another in my home!) is probably as important as the issue itself.

Disagreeing, sharing opinions, even protesting is all OK (even if we may not agree with their opinion!) but it’s important to model and lead in the how to do that where starting with a posture of honour for one another is important. I love that the Bible tells us to honour one another, repeatedly, in many directions and relationships. It’s counter cultural in our society today and I’d love for us as Christians to be characterized by it, even, perhaps especially, in our approach to conflict and standing up for or against something. It’s too easy for members of staff to be seen as the enemy and for neither side to listen to the other or be willing to be moved from their starting point. That’s not going to help the issue at hand nor with successful conflict management in the rest of life!

I want my children to honour the staff at their school recognizing the authority they have in their lives. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, that everything they say is right or that challenging them sometimes is wrong, but it speaks to the posture on the approach! Too often disagreements become vicious and polarized because they become personal and some of this is because of a lack of honour in all directions as people approach.

So if my children want to challenge various policies (which they do on occasion), I’m going to support that if it’s done well, even if I may not think it’s worth getting worked up about (see previous note about uniform policy!)