Should school children have smartphones?

  • In the recent past, who would have thought that touchscreen devices would be a ubiquitous and everyday commodity controlling our lives?

    But that is the unfortunate reality of the two-edged sword of technology. While technology has affected our lives positively in more ways than we can count, it invariably has its black spots. One of the most controversial issues surrounding smartphones is allowing school children to use the device. Smartphones are primarily an instrument of communication, but the growth of social media has transformed them into a tool of mass addiction as old and young people can’t extricate their souls from the pangs of this notoriously addictive monster. To be fair to social media, it has been a strong tool for rallying public opinion as can be seen in different civil demonstrations that brought about radical changes in the society.

    Some people argue that school children should never be allowed to own smartphones because it distracts them from being attentive during their lessons. Smartphone users, especially school children think they are multitasking when they use their phone during classes, but they are distracting themselves and losing on two fronts because science as showed that the human brain is poor at handling two things at the same time.

    A 2017 study revealed that merely having a smartphone close to you robs you of the brain power to tackle cognitive problems as your brain expends energy trying to overcome the temptation to check the device.

    According to the director of the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute, Matt Cruger, what he focuses on when working with kids is their ability to focus on homework-related activities, not their ability to do the homework. Matt believes that children can do their homework if they can focus on it. But children normally have a hard time trying not to get distracted while doing homework. Having a captivating gadget such as a smartphone could make it impossible to concentrate at all. And this applies to every aspect of learning disrupted by the use of smartphones.

    One of the reasons why smartphones are not suitable for children is that apps and games are built to hook their users through highly addictive features and excellent user-friendly designs. Young people also have less discipline to control their impulses, and they go all the way to indulge in their game or social media platform of choice to the detriment of their academic progress, and social and physical interactions.

    A 2009 study conducted by researchers at Stanford found that multitaskers have a harder time completing tasks. In their report, the researchers noted that multitasking, such as checking your phone while doing homework reduces the fluency and efficiency of getting work done because your attention is divided. A child begins an activity and tries to get it done, but multitasking prevents him from staying focused on the task, increasing the time spent on the work and reducing the quality.

    Apart from the points above, smartphones have been the prime tool of bullying in recent times. There have been many cases of children who hurt themselves physically due to the trauma of bullying on social media networks. Researchers have also found that spending longer time on social media makes young people unhappy about many areas of their lives. The quick access to information can also reduce creative and critical thinking in school children and inhibit their problem-solving skills. The access provided by smartphones facilitate all these ills.

    This does not imply that smartphones don’t provide any benefits to school children, but the potential harms seem to outweigh the benefits. Parents and school authorities need to find ways of controlling the use of these devices. Some schools completely ban the use of smartphones and tablets in the classroom, but not everybody is willing to take such drastic steps.  For some stakeholders, the best way of reducing the damages done by smartphone is to restrict their use among school children.

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