Phone bans might seem worthwhile in an academic ivory tower - but these kids need real-life skills, and banning phones is the exact opposite of common sense.
Phone bans might seem worthwhile in an academic ivory tower - but these kids need real-life skills, and banning phones is the exact opposite of common sense.

The glaringly obvious problem with banning phones in schools

RENDEZVIEW: What's the point of a phone ban in schools if parents are undoing all their children's device-free learning by constantly using their own phones during the limited time they have with their kids, asks Darren Levin.

The ban doesn't extend to private schools just yet, however. Imagine the backlash if we took away a private school kid's capacity to manage their robust portfolio of stocks in class. The streets of Armadale would literally be a bloodbath.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino described the ban as common sense, saying the government was taking some "real steps" to reduce distraction and levels of bullying.

That's clearly well intentioned but if the government were serious about reducing bullying they'd get rid of, well, themselves.

As a parent of at least one Victorian kid in a state school, I'm torn about the mobile phone ban.

My daughter doesn't have a phone yet but if she did I'm not sure how I'd feel about the government restricting my right to contact her at all times.

What if I wanted to send her a photo of a super cute puppy outside a cafe at 2.17pm? Or a viral meme of someone AutoTuning their cat's meow at midday?

All public schools in Victoria will ban students from having mobile phones from the first bell to the last. Picture: Jason Edwards
All public schools in Victoria will ban students from having mobile phones from the first bell to the last. Picture: Jason Edwards

I'm just joking of course - I hate cats - but isn't school about preparing our kids for life outside its Harmony Day mural-painted walls?

I'm not sure if James Merlino has ever been outside a classroom but here in the real world phones are connected to absolutely everything we do - banking, shopping, WhatsApping, Instagramming, tweeting, trolling, ordering sneaky snack packs at midnight.

That's why some experts and politicians in other states think a ban could do more harm than good.

The ACT's education minister Yvette Berry says instead of insulating kids from the realities of a device obsessed world, we should use the opportunity to teach them about appropriate mobile phone usage. (When she says appropriate I'm just going to assume she means sending the right emoji at the right time and limiting GIF usage to eight per day.)

"It's important that children and young people are taught how to live alongside devices appropriately," she said, "because this is a big part of our life now."

It's pretty hard to argue with that, he writes in the notes section of his phone.

But if this were really about kids' wellbeing the government should at least be consistent and ban them for parents, too. Not in the day when they're trying to do their jobs or organise drinks in their "Defeated Dads of Melbourne" WhatsApp group.

What’s the point of a phone ban in schools if parents are undoing all their children’s device-free learning? Picture: iStock
What’s the point of a phone ban in schools if parents are undoing all their children’s device-free learning? Picture: iStock

But during the short window we have with our kids when they're not at school and uncontactable because a teacher has locked up their phone.

A concerning report launched late last year by the Queensland government revealed that thousands of kids were craving attention from parents who were more interested in mindlessly scrolling through poorly lit brunch photos than hearing about their child's digitally disconnected day at school.

A child psychologist quoted in this very publication said when parents use their phones around children, they are offering "partial attention at best".

I totally get the temptation to whip out your phone for a cheeky Insta, especially when they're waffling on for 35 minutes about some recess footy card trade gone wrong.

But what's the point of a phone ban if parents are undoing all that learning in the limited time we have with them at home?

Darren Levin is a RendezView writer.

@darren_levin