Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am thinking of home schooling my daughter this Fall and wonder if home schooled kids need phones. She is entering eighth grade. I feel constant pressure from her and other parents to get a smartphone. If we home school for a year or two I can postpone the decision and she will be older. And, it will keep me from having to deal with the other parents and tweens who have smartphones. Libby, Oakland
Dear Libby: Not all parents will choose home schooling, but I think that all parents must home school when it comes to phones. You are certainly hopping on a trend. Many parents, particularly in California, are deliberating whether to return to the in-person classroom this Fall. The pluses are that the home schooling curriculum can be customized to the student, the classroom can be anywhere, and parents have more control. This includes control over digital devices.
That said, I hope you have reasons beyond the smartphone for wanting to home school this Fall. Most curriculums are now online and the materials will be digital: podcasts, videos, drills, exams, and so forth. Homeschooling might actually increase your daughter’s screen time albeit, on a laptop computer or iPad.
The Provisional Phone:
You sound like a thoughtful parent, so you might consider using the new school year to get your daughter up and running with a provisional phone. In previous posts, I have referred to the provisional phone as the starter-kit. You could use a device with gray scale or fewer features, but that does not obviate the need to school at home, when it comes to digital education.
There’s an analogy from the transportation field. Parents don’t hand over the keys to the family car when their child on their fifteenth birtday. Instead, the parent and child embark on a series of steps. First, there is classroom (or video) training with those scary crash pictures. Next comes driving with a parent or instructor, then a written test with road rules, and finally, a road test with the DMV. For at least six months to a year, future drivers operate with a learner’s permit.
Rather than shield your daughter from the responsibilities of using a phone, you could use the school year to introduce it “provisionally.” At home you will provide the instruction and training, but the in-person classroom will provide the challenges and real-world context.
Context Counts when Learning:
Here is where context counts: at the in-person school, tweens will encounter peers that use text and social media to mock and bully. The lesson: stay clear of them, and do not return like with like. Then there is instruction on encountering porn and salacious content. For daughters, there is an instructional module on female body image and understanding how these pictures are often altered. These lessons, and more, become salient when your tween navigates them with peers.
I would wish for you, and all parents with young students, that this first phone, the provisional phone, opens up family discussions. The true learning must begin at home, even when kids take the phones to the physical school. I would also wish, perhaps demand, that my school librarian and teachers offer a class in digital literacy for phone beginners. Sometimes the postings I see on Instagram from teachers suggest a laissez-fair attitude that I do not agree with, and earlier this summer, parents wrote about conflicts when pod teachers allowed students to use their phones during breaks.
Home Schooling No Matter What!
If keeping the phone out of your daughter’s hands for a few more years is the primary reason you are pursuing the home schooling path, then I think you should be more upfront. Realize that this constant struggle with digital media will be with you as a parent, no matter which route you choose. And, whether you choose to home school or go back to the in-person classroom, the one curriculum you need to teach from home will be about the provisional phone.