Survey of Cell Phone Policies and Parental Preferences in Middle Schools

December 13, 2017
Delaney Ruston, MD*, Andrew Orlebeke; Talia Friedman, Lisa Tabb
*Corresponding Author

Purpose of the survey
To understand current policies around students and their cell phones at private and public middle schools in the US and to understand preferred policies by parents.

There is little data on the current cell phone policies in schools.  Over the past few years, cell phone ownership has become more and more prevalent among young people. The average age kids get smartphones is now 10.3 years old, and the majority of middle schoolers have smartphones..The distractions which these devices can pose makes cell phone policy an area of increasing importance in schools. Through this study, we aim to answer two primary questions: what are schools’ cell phone policies and what would parents prefer that cell phone policy to be?

The data in this analysis was collected by MyDoc Productions, creator of the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age. MyDoc had collected emails from people who had seen Screenagers, were interested in seeing it, or who had signed up to receive a weekly blog. Through these lists, the producers sent approximately 52,000 emails between May 30th and June 15th, 2017, asking recipients to fill out an online survey (available upon request). An average of three reminder emails were sent to non-responders over the ensuing two months. Two thousand, one hundred and forty responses were recorded in total. Data from this survey was collected and analyzed using SPSS and Excel.

Of the total respondents (2,140), two-thirds (1,421) reported having at least one child in middle school. The others had children in high school or elementary school. Of the 1,421 responses, 1,200 were usable for analysis. The following were our major findings concerning middle schools: ;

  • 74% of parents were either extremely (49.8%) or very (24%) sure of their children’s school policy on cell phones.

  • The majority (55%) of middle schools allow students to carry phones all day.

  • 51% of private schools in the survey required students to keep their phones in their lockers all day. Thirty percent of public schools had the same policy.

  • 82% of respondents reported that they do not want their kids using cellphones at school.

  • 20% of the schools that allow phones to be carried all day have a policy that students are not to use their phones during hall breaks and at lunch.

  • Of parents (18% of total) who wanted their child to have their cell phone during school: 56% said it was so that their child would be able to reach them throughout the day; 23% said it was so they could reach their child during the day; 21% cited the academic purposes for having a cell phone.

Limitations of study:
The most significant limitation of the study was that our sample was not representative of all US parents. Data was collected from parents who were interested enough in the issues of screen time and children to see or follow a documentary on the issues, who subscribed to a blog about the issues, and/ or subscribed to the film’s newsletter. This affects our results in certain ways. For example, it could be that parents whose child goes to a middle school that allows students to carry phones all day are more likely to be frustrated with the policy and thus more likely to respond to the survey. .This limitation should be taken into account when considering the conclusions of the study.

All parents were not 100% sure of policy and for those, and the others, we did not get validation from each of schools. Nonetheless, the majority of parents were very or extremely sure of their response.

Discussions of results
Our results indicate that a majority of middle schools allow students to carry phones all day. Research shows that cell phones can be distracting in classroom settings and can affect kids in multiple ways. There is ample evidence to suggest that cell phone use among students is correlated with lower academic performance. Parents agree: according to our data, more than 8 in 10 parents would prefer that phones not be used by students at all during the school day.

Results also diverged widely between public and private schools. Fifty-one percent of private schools require students to keep their phones in their lockers all day, compared to only 30 percent of public schools. This difference may be reflective of several things: increased private school parental input, potentially safer lockers, teachers’ greater ability or willingness to adhere to a stricter policy, or something else not considered.

Twenty percent of the schools that allow phones to be carried all day have a policy stating that students are not to use their phones during hall breaks and at lunch. However, our discussions and visits to schools reveal that even when this is the stated policy, students will often still use their phones which illustrates the challenge of allowing students to carry phones all day while expecting them to be able to resist the urge to use them.


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