Can Nobles Students Self-Regulate their Technology Use?

Emilie Andrews, Staff Writer

November 13, 2023

Nobles’ phone policies have been in place for many years, however, recent conversations about student technological engagement have sparked debate over on-campus phone rules. Both Nobles faculty and parents struggle with student cell phone use. Because student social media use and screen time are on the rise, adults have had conversations about how to handle phone use in school. Middle School and Upper School students have separate phone policies, and both are consistent with the goals and values of each smaller community. 

Current Middle School students are required to abide by a strict set of rules regarding cell phones. All students who carry a phone must stow their device in the “Phone Home,” a small contained cubby area, before assembly, and it must stay in the cubby until the end of the academic day. Students are permitted to use their phones after the academic day ends, but they are asked to stay off social media and mobile games throughout the duration of the afternoon program. This is enforced through an honor code system that Middle School faculty hope students will make an effort to abide by. When discussing Middle School student opinions on cell phone policies, the Head of the Middle School John Gifford said, “I would argue it is most important that whatever the rule is, it’s for everyone in that cohort. Kids wouldn’t like it if some of their peers had access to their phones and other people didn’t. [Our policy] works well as long as everyone knows that they’re in it together.”

In the Upper School, students are not permitted to use cell phones during assembly, and all devices must be stowed away and silenced when entering Lawrence Auditorium. However, during classes, teachers often dictate the phone policies in their classrooms. Some allow phones to be silenced on the desk, while others require phones to be away in backpacks or stowed in a charging station. Regardless of the course, it is the student’s responsibility to follow the rules that their specific teacher sets forth. 

Policies in both the middle and upper school have stayed the same for many years, and generally, students comply with the regulations. The obvious consensus in the Middle School is that most students would prefer to have their phones during the academic day. Most Upper school students don’t have any major concerns with cell phone use, as phones are permitted throughout the academic day and afternoon, with the exception of teacher-specific regulations during class time. Students might not necessarily see any issue with the amount of time being spent on cell phones during free periods, but many faculty members have taken note of the horde of students using cell phones in the alcoves and library rather than conversing face-to-face with friends. Gifford said, “My biggest fear is that we’re going to create dependency on technology in young people and that technology use will stunt young people in their ability to interact comfortably with others.” 

Furthermore, it’s not just faculty expressing concern about student screen time. Parents have reached out to faculty members conveying distress about managing students’ cell phone usage at home. Many Middle and Upper School parents alike would prefer that the school be the “bad guy” and restrict cell phones during school hours rather than attempting to do a similar task at home. In the Middle School, Gifford said, “I think parents are really struggling with this, and that they’re worried about it. Because once you decide to buy a phone for a kid it becomes really hard to control that usage.” Similarly, Head of the Upper School Allison Easterling said, “For lots of parents, much of our parenting energy is focused on regulating technology and kids’ access to technology…It’s very challenging, so I think parents hope that the school can help.”

However, if the school were to consider a change in cell phone policies, specifically in the Upper School, Easterling would emphasize the importance of student leadership and student accountability. When discussing the chance of new changes in the policy, Easterling said, “I would really want students to buy in. Honestly, I don’t think the student body would be interested in participating in something new [related to cell phone policy] unless it was student-driven. If the SLC or prefects decided that they wanted to try something to get students on board it would be really interesting to see. But it’s got to be student-driven.”

As of now, it is still unclear what kinds of changes might be made down the line and how students might be able to get involved in heading those changes. Until then, it is necessary to inform the student body about both the importance and dangers of cell phones and social media usage. As new studies are released about the effects technology has on students and teens as a whole, the school’s policy regarding cell phones becomes even more vital. When considering the first steps in any change regarding cell phones, Easterling said “We first need to identify the problem: what’s the problem with cell phones from a student’s perspective? What might student-led solutions be, and what would that look like?”

(Photo Credit: Zack Mittelstadt)

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