Safe Walk to School or Phone?

Mom worries about using
phones and earbuds when kids walk to school.

This is a logo for safe routes to school in Marin County, Ca.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: A Mom question- do you think it’s safe for an 11 year old that walks to school to have a phone? There are several big streets to cross, and I worry that he will be looking at his phone instead of the road. My son says everyone has a phone and most of the kids do walk to school in our neighborhood. D.D., Tiburon

Dear D.D.: A couple of thoughts on the question you pose. First, congratulations on living in a neighborhood where children can walk to school. Many schools, including the one in your town, have Safe Routes to School programs and you can get more involved with their training. Two communities I know of, Honolulu, Hi. and Montclair, Ca. have banned pedestrians from using phones and earbuds when crossing intersections, but it is not clear that there is much enforcement.

That said, don’t over-worry. Talk over the safety issues with your son and make a ‘compact’ with him to follow the advice from Safe Routes to School. Personally, I would threaten to take the phone away if you find he uses it while crossing streets. Explain that he needs to focus for the full time.

There is a lot of confusion around phones and pedestrian safety. On the one hand, the percent of traffic deaths involving pedestrians has soared from 12% to 16% between 2008 and 2018. During the same time period phone ownership surged, and car safety improved. However, this could be a spurious correlation. Seventy five percent of the pedestrian fatalities occur after dark. It is also known that 32% or more of the ped fatalities are alcohol related. As in distracted driving, it’s hard to get the ‘real’ rate when phones (or marijuana/drugs) are involved.

You are right to question whether kids, phones, and walking mix well. One obvious point is to make safety and phones an everyday lesson, and make it a new discussion point with the November 3 switch to Daylight Savings Time.

School Ban Phones?

A mom asks whether schools should ban smartphones during the school day….

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My pre-teen asked me to write you. In her new school, she is required to leave her phone in her backpack, and not bring it into the classroom. The backpack has to be left in the hallway or in a locker. My daughter says this is not fair. What do you think? M.Casee, Bolinas

Dear M. Casee: Here we are in late August, and your daughter raises the vital back-to-school issue. There is no standard or right- and-wrong here. It’s at the discretion of the school.

Some countries, like France, Australia, and Israel institute bans during school, but other countries, like Japan, have rescinded the suspension. In the U.S., some school district use Yondr bags. There are compelling reasons to ban smartphones in the classroom: studies find that students who use them do not score as well on standardized tests; they are distracting during classroom lessons; and students can use them after class to post off-color pictures, sometimes bullying ones, from the gym, lunchroom, etc.

That said, there are also positive reasons to allow smartphones in the schools. The primary one is that smartphones are the new tool, and students need to be educated on how to use operate them intelligently and mindfully. In previous posts, I have called for provisional phones… schools, libraries, and parents must provide “beginner’s lessons.” It will take a few more years. Currently, only a few teachers have developed a curriculum that use the phone as an educational tool- for example, civics classes that explore the nature of pro and con sentiments.

None of this will resolve your daughter’s cry that it’s not fair, but you need to remind her that principals and teachers set the rules… that’s the first lesson. As a parent, you should ask why she would need to have a phone out during school lessons. It is certainly not to reach you or her friends. And, to set a good example, maybe the teachers and school staff should be phone-free too.

Lost Phone, Kids- It’s The Third Time…

If your kid loses phones over and over…do they need to have one?

A 1/2 gallon milk carton that has a message" Have you seen this lost phone?" It mimics the missing child messages on milk cartons. The images is from PC World
source: PC World

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My son, age twelve, just came home from day camp and when we checked his backpack, his phone was missing. This is the third time he has lost a phone this year. I like him to have a phone so that we can stay in touch, but this is getting ridiculous. What do you think I should do? Phoebe, Fairfax

Dear Phoebe: There are a couple of ways to approach this. You could text him every hour to remind him to guard his phone and turn on its GPS to track the location. But seriously, first ask, is he losing other things too, say hoodies and lunchboxes? If so, consider mindfulness training. Or, maybe, as this mom suggests, a smartphone is just too dear, and too much of a responsibility for many kids.

It’s expensive to keep replacing smartphones, so there are at least two alternatives: get your son a prepaid phone that comes with limited minutes, or have him wear a watch that just receives messages and texts.

But, before you consider either option, step back and consider why a twelve year old needs to carry a phone at all times. Did you know that kids are safer now in public than they have ever been? The rate of kidnappings, abductions, and other horrible things is infinitesimally small. As a parent, you should know where your twelve year old is at all times. Since it’s summer, and he’s at day camp, consider forgoing the phone, at least until school begins. That short abstinence might be a sufficient lesson to be less forgetful!