Cell Phones and Teens – How To Cut Their Dependency

While perusing a state education association magazine, I came across an article that stopped me cold. While the authors of the quoted piece likely have the best interest of students at heart, the idea is troubling. Cell Phones and Teens – How To Cut Their Dependency is the focus.  As a classroom teacher, this approach leaves me shaking my head in disbelief.

Here’s what they said: “Given that adolescents are highly reactive to perceived intrusions of their independence, a better cell phone policy would involve a school-wide effort to frame limited phone use as a way to “stick it to the man.” Students could be encouraged to view reduced phone use as a way to resist a powerful, profit-seeking industry that seeks to undermine individuals’ willpower through addictive technology.”


From my experience, many students see the teacher in the classroom as “the man.”

Teachers/Student Relationships

I’ve taught on both sides of the United States, and for a handful of districts/divisions. Not once can I remember being directed to con and trick my students.

On the contrary, we’ve been encouraged to create meaningful relationships with our students in an effort to build strong learning communities. Intentionally constructing divisions seems count-productive to me.

Exposing students to real-world scenarios with honesty and integrity must have a place in our classrooms. Attempting to bamboozle them is a sad option that promises unwanted consequences.

While this suggestion for cutting cell phone use in the classroom isn’t one I champion, it is a topic that deserves our attention.

Cell Phone Use In Class

If you’re a teacher, you spend a part of your day administering your school’s cell phone policy when you’d like to be covering the day’s lesson. Depending on your school’s cell phone policy, you’re likely spending time monitoring and reminding students to put the cell back into a pocket or backpack.

If those reminders aren’t followed, you may have to take precious minutes removing a cell phone from its owner, securing it until class is over, and then walking to the office to pass it along to administration. Some teachers feel its just part of the job, others would rather hear fingernails down a chalkboard than have to add this time-waster to their agenda.

Is It Really A Problem?

A widely cited 2018 Pew Research Report seems to indicate we have reason to be concerned. They compared student responses from 2014-2015 and again in 2018. Here are some of the relevant facts:

  • Ninety-five percent of teens have access to a smartphone
  • In 2014-2015, 24% said they were on their phones “almost constantly”
  • In 2018, that number had risen to 45%

If you’re in a classroom, I know you deal with at least a few students who are in that 45% category. If your school’s rules are lax, they are on their phones from the moment they walk into your room until the bell rings releasing them to the next class.

If your school requires you to control student usage, you are forced to be on the lookout for the individuals trying to use their phone while its partially hidden from view.

It could be tucked inside a desk, or hidden under their leg where they can sneak views while you’re working with another student or have just walked past them as you constantly move around the room.

Students who are in that 45% category are amazingly clever when it comes to satisfying their need to engage with their cells.

How Big A Problem Is It?

If this was just about a kid here or there trying to play his favorite game on his smartphone while you’re developing the link between John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil and 20th century monoloplies, it might be laughable.

It’s not.

Much of the time our students spend on their cells is devoted to social media.

Twenty-seven percent of the children the Pew Report interviewed stated that social media had a mostly negative effect on them and their friends.

  • A 13 year old boy said it gives people a bigger audience to speak and teach hate and belittle others.
  • A 15 year old boy felt it gives people anonymity to say whatever they want with negative impact.
  • A 14 year old girl felt it was leading people to kill others as a result of negative comments made about them.

A number of students also commented that cell phone usage causes a negative impact on social interactions. For some, this leads to problems of addiction.

Teen Cell Phone Addiction

Common Sense Media conducted a survey on teen cell phone addiction. They interviewed children between the ages of 12 and 18, and their parents. They found that mobile devices have changed the way families live their lives. Both children and parents feel addicted to their mobile devices.

According to the survey:

  • One of every two teens feels addicted to their cell phone.
  • Seventy-two percent of teens feels the need to immediately respond to cell messages.
  • Thirty-two percent of students say they argue daily with their parents about their cell phone use.

If you’re a classroom teacher or administrator, you can keep a simple tally sheet of how many times daily students try to argue with you about their cell phone usage. Although the tally might be an entertaining exercise, I feel confident you already know how often this event occurs.

Talking To Parents

If you decide to delve into this topic with the parents of your students, the best place to start is with your administration and the resources at your D.O. However, if you want to have some background information and solid talking points before talking to your local resources, you may want to read Children, Teen and Entertainment Media: The View From The Classroom. This was put together by Common Sense Media, and covers a number of important points.

You’ll find lots of helpful information in the report, and its a fairly quick read. One of the charts covers students’ skills and the effect of entertainment media. The list includes:

  • Seventy-one percent of teachers say media use has negatively impacted their students attention spans.
    • Sixty-three percent of elementary teachers agreed
    • Eighty percent of high school teachers agreed

Why It Matters

Holding a student’s interest long enough to cover material is becoming more and more difficult. Whether you’re presenting new material or looking for participation on a homework assignment, students must be able to pay attention to the material for anything meaningful to take place.

According to The Children, Teen and Entertainment Media: The View From The Classroom mentioned above, many teachers have realized that their students expect, and need, to be entertained continuously. They feel work is boring because it forces them to think instead of react.

This may be a real game-changer for lots of teachers.

The Last Straw?

Are you at a point in your career where you just can’t bring yourself to fight this battle any longer?

  • Maybe you totally disagree with your school’s cell phone policy.
  • Maybe you have a workable plan for your students regarding cell phone usage, but administration won’t allow it.
  • Maybe this is one too many items to add to your already over-flowing plate.

If you’re thinking about making this year your last, take a look at my #1 recommendation for escaping the classroom. It’s a great resource for learning how to promote yourself, your aspirations, and your special concerns and is the place where I have learned everything you see on this website.

It’s also an attractive plan for teachers looking to supplement their incomes.

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4 thoughts on “Cell Phones and Teens – How To Cut Their Dependency”

  1. This is great information, but unfortunately I only see the issue becoming a bigger problem. People in general are spending way too much time on their phones and at the most inappropriate times; Like school, driving, work etc. . .

    And you gave good advice on how teachers can go about replacing or supplementing their teaching income. After they learn skills via WA they may even feel confident about tutoring online, setting up their own site related to teaching and so forth.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation.  I have to agree with you that people, including students, will only increase the use of their cell phones in the near future.

      I also agree with you that creating their own online businesses is an excellent way for teachers to stay in the field they love, but do so on their own terms.  Wealthy Affiliate is a great place to learn the skills needed to make this option a reality.

  2. Sometimes, those experts are doubtful. They have so many things to say, like it should be followed by everyone. But honestly, most of what they say is unreasonable.  They may have been teachers before, but now that they are out of the field because of supervision and administration of their district.  They cannot speak anymore of what’s currently happening in the classroom, because they are simply not there anymore. They’re not present to talk about what should and should not be done.

    I agree with you that teachers primarily should be the model of integrity among students. Often times, you encounter problems like this and still you have to deal with the student in a manner that ends with mutual respect. Excessive cellphone use during class hours is a rampant and growing problem worldwide. Both teachers and students are affected here. It was a good thing that you brought this up. 

    Parents should also do something about this. In some cases, it’s just odd that leniency is not practiced as it should be. I admire you for stepping up!

    • Thanks you for your kind comment.

      This is definitely one of the challenges of life in the classroom in this decade.  As you mentioned, when you have individuals creating rules without current experience, it can create difficulties for everyone involved.  Often, you end up at odds with the very people you’re trying to work with.  

      Having parent involvement is also critical, and not always available.  When teachers have parents supporting policies that help create great learning environments, it’s a winning situation for everyone.

      Thanks for joining the conversation!


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