Texting kids at school: Why teachers say parents should stop

It’s no secret that smartphones are a big distraction for kids at school. 

Now, teachers are saying the stream-of-consciousness texts their students receive while at school contribute to a climate of constant interruption and distraction from learning. 

Virginia high school teacher Joe Clement shared some examples of the text messages parents have sent students sitting in his classes with the Associated Press on March 9.  

  • "What did you get on your test?"
  • "Did you get the field trip form signed?"
  • "Do you want chicken or hamburgers for dinner tonight?"

Clement says just a few changes in parents’ behavior can help make phones less distracting at school. 

"We call it the digital umbilical cord. Parents can’t let go. And they need to," Clement said.

Here are some tips on how you can help your child stay focused while in school. 

If the message isn’t urgent, it can probably wait

It’s normal for parents to want to keep in touch with their children by texting, especially in an era where school shootings and other mental health problems continue to overwhelm kids. 

Teachers say you can still reach your child if you have a plan change or a family emergency. Just contact the front office.

Think of it this way: "If you came to school and said, ‘Can you pull my child out of calculus so I can tell them something not important?' we would say no," Central Virginia school counselor Erin Rettig said.

"When your children are texting you stuff that can wait — like, ‘Can I go to Brett’s house five days from now?’ — don’t respond," said Sabine Polak, one of three mothers who co-founded the Phone-Free Schools Movement. "You have to stop engaging. That’s just feeding the problem."

Cut the cord during school hours

Many parents got used to being in constant contact during the COVID-19 pandemic when kids were home doing online school. They have kept that communication going as life has otherwise returned to normal.

Parents might expect their kids to respond after a period of time to texts (though many do). However, when students pull out their phones to reply, it opens the door to other social media distractions.

How phones distract students

Educators nationwide report that students frequently engage in activities like sending Snapchat messages, listening to music, and browsing online stores during class, highlighting the myriad ways smartphones detract from the educational experience.

While the pervasive influence of phones on kids is widely acknowledged, teachers note that parents are often unaware of how much their children use them during class. Consequently, educators and experts are increasingly advocating for a unified approach: implementing phone bans during class time.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 77% of U.S. schools prohibit cellphone use for non-academic purposes.

But that number is misleading. It does not mean students are following those bans or all those schools are enforcing them.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.