Parents hijacking school phone bans
"OVER-ANXIOUS parents" are undermining school mobile phone bans by issuing their children with connected smartwatches and instructions not to remove them even if a teacher demands it.
The disturbing new trend is emerging as more individual schools and states institute smartphone bans in primary and high schools, cyber safety educators reveal, and parents fight to retain "around the clock" contact with their children.
The revelations also come just days after the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan made a pitch to state education ministers to ban the devices in classrooms across the country for the wellbeing of students.
So far, only Victoria has announced plans to ban smartphones in all state schools from next year, with New South Wales banning the devices from primary schools and issuing guidelines for secondary schools.
But cyber safety educator Leonie Smith said the incoming laws were already being undermined by pushy parents who were issuing children aged as young as eight with connected smartwatches that could make and receive text messages and phone calls.
"A lot of parents are already trying to get around mobile phone bans by giving their children smartwatches. They have this fear that says they need to know where their kids are all the time," she said.
"There's even a group of parents out there who have told their children, 'if someone tries to take your smartwatch off you, that's not a trustworthy adult'. How are teachers supposed to deal with that?"
Ms Smith, who lectures school students about online safety issues including privacy and cyber-bullying, said other over-the-top parents had formed committees "to confront school principals" about phone bans and force school administrations to overturn bans.
Cyber safety expert Susan McLean, who reviewed mobile phone restrictions in NSW schools, branded the parents' behaviour "ridiculous" and misplaced.
"It's a very sad reflection on society that parents are looking at ways to get around things designed to protect their children and keep them safer," she said.
"If you need to contact your child, you ring the school. You don't fiddle and text your kid 10 times a day."
Ms McLean said restricting students' access to smartphones during school days was important to limit distractions, maintain security in schools, and help them to connect with their peers in the playground.
While mobile phone bans are rolling out in NSW and Victoria, there are no restrictions planned in other states, where schools are currently left to make their own decisions about the use of mobile technology.
Mr Tehan recently pitched the idea for a national framework to ban phone use in schools to the COAG Education Council, citing Canadian research that found removing mobile phones from school grounds was equivalent to adding an extra hour to the school week, or five days to the school year.
"We want best practice guidelines to help states and territories implement mobile phone bans in all schools across the country," Mr Tehan said.
But Ms Smith warned national guidelines should address all forms of mobile technology to ensure neither parents nor students could exploit a loophole.