When it comes to children and cellphones, a lot has changed. Go back 10 or 15 years, and the sight of students walking around a school campus with such devices was rare.
Today the exception has become the rule, both in and out of schools.
According to data from the state Office of the Attorney General, an estimated 79 percent of teens and pre-teens in Texas have a cellphone.
With such a high number of mobile phones in the hands of school-aged children, many school districts, including Killeen and Copperas Cove, have adapted school policies to balance the ever-increasing prevalence of personal technology on school campuses with the need to keep students focused and on task.
“It’s a fine line,” said Emilio Olivares, director of student services for the Copperas Cove Independent School District. “You want to do what is best for them, and make sure that they are being safe.”
The Copperas Cove School District’s policy permits students to possess a cellphone, but they must remain turned off during the school day.
The Killeen Independent School District’s current policy is slightly different. According to its student code of conduct, students may not display, turn on, or use a cellphone or other “telecommunication devices” on school property during the school day.
However, it does make some exceptions. The Killeen district’s policy states high school students can use cellphones outside the school building during the student’s designated lunch period.
In addition, the policy also allows campuses to permit the use of some electronic devices in other settings subject to principal, director, teacher or sponsor approval.
“The district recognizes that students are involved in an expanding technological world and understands that students learn in different modes,” the district’s Student Code of Conduct states.
For example, students at Killeen High School may use cellphones in the building during passing periods, at lunch and after school. Phones must be turned off in the classroom, and cannot be visible during class periods.
At Eastern Hills Middle School, students must keep cellphones off and out of sight during the school day, and the school’s policy “strongly recommends” that they be placed in the student’s locker for safe keeping.
With the advent of smartphones, which allow users to access the Internet, chat and other services, the issue of children and teen cellphone safety has only grown more complicated.
According to the Texas Attorney General’s website; while most parents and adults are aware of the dangers that exist online via their home computers and laptops, many overlook the same dangers that a cellphone poses to their child.
The ability for strangers to get personal information via text messaging and chatting, the potential for cyber stalking and cyber bullying are all just as real on a mobile phone as they are on a computer.
“Students now have instant access to the web and social media from these phones,” said Curtis Clay, associate director of the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University-San Marcos. “We need to make sure we are offering information and training to parent and students about proper use of cellphones.”
In an attempt to provide that education, the center’s website offers a number of tips for parents and children covering the issues surrounding Internet and cellphone safety. Suggestions from the site include teaching children to only use their phones to communicate with people they know in the real world, being aware of the GPS mapping and other features on a child’s phone that allow users to pinpoint their location and being aware of what they and others are taking photos and videos of with their mobile devices.
“There are also applications for smart phones where you can address some of those issues,” Clay said. “Just like on a home computer.”
Many service providers include features and settings that allow parents to control the use and access of their children’s cellphones, said Jamie Hastings of CTIA-The Wireless Association, which represents more than 260 wireless providers, manufactures and suppliers.
“These companies often offer features that limit when and where children can use the features on their phone,” Hastings said. “It just a matter of what is available to you.”
The association currently runs growingwireless.com, which among other resources, provides parents with tips and information about what parental control options its members provide. Hastings said that with responsible use, the current generation of wireless devices could be a powerful educational tool to help children.
“We want parents to utilize those resources, because these devices can be power tools that offer great opportunities to learn.”