Thursday, February 20, 2014

Students, Parents and Cell Phones

I spent the better part of six wonderful years as a high school and middle school assistant principal. My main task in both roles was to preserve school decorum through the management of student behavior issues. Cell phone use was always on the top of the list of concerns. I began my career trying to push cell phones out of our students’ hands to the extent that I even researched the installation of a signal jammer. My view of cell phone use in schools has drastically changed since that time. Cell phones can be a vital tool for parent communication, safety response and, when managed correctly, can be a powerful classroom tool. Cell phones have and will continue to permeate every aspect of schools and society. To try and stop cell phone use is akin to the Dutch legend where the little boy sticks his finger in the dyke to stop a leak, only to have seven more leaks open. Let's focus our efforts on teaching responsible use of these powerful devices.  

As parents we face relentless badgering from our children who we have not yet allowed to have a cell phone. When and how we walk through this rite of passage with our children is a very personal decision. Several days ago I came across the rules below that a parent put in place when she gave her son an iPhone for Christmas. The rules don't only speak to everyday phone use, but to large societal issues with which we need to help our children. The rules below were taken in part from Michael Smith's Principal's Page The Blog, which can be found at

1.  It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?
2.  I will always know the password.
3.  If it rings, answer it.  It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads "Mom" or "Dad". Not ever.
4.  Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30 pm every school night and every weekend night at 9:00 pm. It will be shut off for the night and not turned on again until 7:30 am. If you would not make a call to someone’s land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.
5.  If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes in thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Mow a lawn, baby sit, stash some birthday money. It will happen, you should be prepared.
6.  Do not use technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first or stay the heck out of the crossfire.
7.  Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
8.  Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room. Censor yourself.
9.  No pornography. Search the web for information you would openly share with me. If you have a question about anything, ask a person – preferably me or your father.
10.  Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.
11.  Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Don’t laugh, unfortunately people do this and sometimes they are arrested. Someday you may be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence. It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life. It is always a bad idea. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear – including a bad reputation.
12.  Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.
13.  Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO – fear of missing out.
14.  Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.
15.  Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.
16.  Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without Googling.

17.  You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You and I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together. It is my hope that you can agree to these terms. Most of the lessons listed here do not apply to the iPhone, but to life. You are growing up in a fast and ever changing world. It is exciting and enticing. Keep it simple every chance you get. Trust your powerful mind and giant heart above any machine. I hope you enjoy your awesome new iPhone.