Electronic devices are often student distractions
By Amy Winter
Copley News Service
Twelve-year-old Claire Ruby always carries her white Chocolate phone in her pocket. She is usually texting, picking a new ring tone, recording a song or playing a game.
"Almost all my friends have cell phones," says Ruby. "I use my phone to call or text my friends a lot."
Ruby is like many preteens who have bought into the electronic device craze, following in the footsteps of their friends. Children have media access in portable form with cell phones, iPods, MP3 players and portable DVD players, according to Elisabeth Hirschhorn Donahue, associate editor of The Future of Children's "Children and Electronic Media."
Children want instant gratification and constant connection. And most parents want their children to have cell phones - it gives them a perceived security if they can instantly reach their children. Beth Lynne, a middle-school teacher and writer for the Suite 101 site, bought her 10-year-old son a phone when he started to ride his bike farther from home. Donahue's sixth-grader calls on his phone once he gets home from school.
Diane Fitzpatrick, another writer for Suite 101, agrees that cell phones offer parents more comfort. In case of an emergency, children can easily call their parents or reach medical help. Ken Muche, the Southern California public relations officer for Verizon, says his company offers a chaperone phone service. Choose to put a GPS tracking system or set up a perimeter for your son or daughter. Whenever the child ventures out of the distinguished boundaries, a text message is sent to the parents' phone.
"Parents are more willing to give independence to their kids if they can get in touch," says Fitzpatrick.
What is the appropriate age to give your child a cell phone or other electronic device? Fitzpatrick says it depends on the parents to determine the age; it is a big responsibility for a child. Some parents don't want to buy into the latest fad, taking away time from playing outside, reading, paying attention to studies or talking face to face, according to www.greatschools.net.
Joyce Boogaard feels that her 11-year-old daughter isn't mature enough to have her own phone.
"I don't feel I can trust her," says Boogaard. "I am afraid she will abuse it."
Parents need to control their child's amount of time using electronic gadgets. Watch what your child is downloading on his or iPod. Put a certain amount of minutes on the phone, and it will shut down after a specific time, according to Fitzpatrick. Pick a basic phone with no text messaging or photo sending abilities. Make sure the phone is used for safety reasons. Try the Migo of Firefly phone with fewer options, meant to market convenience and security.
Electronic devices serve as a problem for schools and teachers - use of gadgets are limited on school grounds. Phones and iPods cause distractions; students may listen to their favorite songs or text message during a lesson. Lisa Rosenthal, managing editor of Great Schools, says gadgets can be used as tools for cheating during exams or spreading rumors through cyber-bullying. Plus, there is a greater chance of the device being stolen or damaged.
Phones and other electronic gadgets aren't allowed in the classroom. The San Diego Unified School District site says electronic devices need to be turned off and kept in backpacks while in the classroom. School executives and teachers will confiscate the gadgets if used during inappropriate times and repeated activity may result in disciplinary action. Students (kindergarten through 12th) may only use phones before and after school - high schoolers can also talk during the lunch period, according to the San Diego district.
"The real decision regarding cell phones lies with parents," says the Family Education site (www.familyeducation.com). "Short of checking each and every backpack, school officials can only enforce cell phone bans if they catch a student with a prohibited device."
Robert Wallace, a syndicated teen columnist and former principal, says the school district in Galesburg, Ill., doesn't allow students to carry phones at any time during the school day; they can keep the electric devices in their lockers or cars. Lynne has to take away phones if they ring in her classroom - phones are given back at the end of the day. Her cell phone and an office phone are available for the children to use in an emergency.
"There is no doubt that the cell phone is a wonderful convenience, but it has become a disruption to the educational environment," says Lynne.
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