Dear Parents of High School Students,
It’s 2019 and pretty much every high school student in America now has their own cell phone. While there are benefits to this trend, like the ability to instantly look up the origin of the word apocalypse or the year Calvin Coolidge died, phones have also changed you students’ experience in high school.
Lots of people are researching, studying and writing about the effects of social media and apps like Snapchat and Tumblr, so I’m going to leave those alone for now. What I want to do right now is ask all of you loving, attentive and wonderful parents to stop texting your kids between the hours of 8am and 3pm.
I wish I could say that kids don’t use their phones in my classroom — because it’s against the rules or because my classes are so engaging that students focus and forget about that buzzing little box of data in their pockets — but that’s simply not true. Teachers that claim that kids don’t text in their classrooms are either very out of touch or just plain lying.
This said, I do work hard to keep my kids hands and minds on what we are doing in class. I am constantly experimenting with polite requests, sarcasm, nagging, light embarrassment and guilting kids all in the name of getting them to put their phones away. Although it’s not perfect, I would say that I am mostly successful and when kids do check their phones in my class, they know they have to do it in secrecy and with perfect timing if they don’t want to get called out.
When I do call kids out, it’s easy to tell them that Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or whatever can wait. What’s tough is when they tell me that they are texting with their mom or their dad who will be worried or angry if they don’t reply. At first I didn’t believe these claims. After a decade in the classroom, I can usually pick out a lie from the truth. But time and again, I would ask students to show me their phone, and there would be a sweet little conversation between a mom or a dad and their son or daughter talking about lunch money, after school plans or if a fight between friends had been resolved.
My sincere response to this situation, which I always deliver in a lighthearted joking way, is always, “Well, text your mom and tell her that if she cares about you and your education, she will never text you again during school hours.”
This sounds harsh, but I mean it. Students that have a constant lifeline to home are deprived of the opportunity to solve problems on their own. Parents, I know you don’t want your kids to go hungry, but bringing them takeout or delivering cash or dropping off their forgotten lunch day after day only creates a dependency that is hard to break. Instead, help them figure out their lunch situation the night before or in the morning, and then send them off on their own. Learning happens when we suffer the consequences of our own actions and change our behavior as a result. If your kid forgets their lunch and has to eat gross cafeteria food or be hungry for an afternoon, they will eventually start remembering to plan better.
The lunch situation is just the beginning. I have seen parents bring a change of clothes when a student spills water on her shirt, bring in a pack of gum because a student is stressed, bring in a change of shoes because the first pair the student wore to school was uncomfortable. Parents, I know you love your students, but there are far better ways to show it than to act as a personal assistant, waiting at their beck and call to instantly meet any and every request.
The worst is when suddenly, during the middle of a class, a student will be called to the office and dismissed. I’ll check in with the office later and learn that the parent called the school saying that the student had been texting all day because he or she was so stressed, having a bad day and maybe even throwing up in the bathroom. While all of this was allegedly occurring, the student was in my classroom talking, laughing and by all appearances, having a fine time.
I do understand that students have a lot going on, and may suffer from anxiety or symptoms of mental illness that don’t always present in obvious ways. However, I also see that once a students learns that they can send desperate sounding texts to mom or dad and then get picked up to go home, they tend to do it over and over. Parents, instead of enabling this behavior, help your kids find a trusted adult in the school that they can go to when they are feeling these things. It might be hard to give up total control of the situation, but it is really healthy for your kids to have positive relationships with adults other than you. Even if your kid doesn’t love all of his or her teachers, I am almost positive there is someone in the school that they can connect with who can help sort out real feelings of anxiety from boredom, manipulation and the desire to go home.
Lastly, although this is none of my business, take advantage of the time that you have while your kid is at school! I heard a parent complain that she couldn’t get anything done because her son was texting her all day. Find a hobby — volunteer somewhere, read a book, take a long bike ride! Make yourself happily unavailable to your kid so that she can learn to make it through the day on her own.
School is about to start back up. Now is a great time to start laying the groundwork. Explain to your child that you love them, but it’s time to create some space between you, which is why you will not be texting with them during school this year. It may be rough at first, but I promise, your kid’s teachers — and maybe someday your kid — will appreciate it.
Your Child’s Devoted and Caring Teacher