Does a Grade 5 student really need their own cell phone?

Boundary-setting with young cell phone users key to mitigating negative impacts later on, says education researcher.

EDMONTON — A University of Alberta study suggests that setting constructive boundaries with — not barring — cell phones for youngsters in schools, and at home, will help curb problematic use down the road. 

“I think if people understand the impact that these devices have on kids — which are mostly in my opinion negative for this age group — more can and should be done to think about the necessity of a 10 or 11 year old having a cell phone,” says education researcher David Chorney.

In a survey of Grade 5 students, Chorney found that 54 per cent of children had their own cell phone, with the rest indicating they expected one within a year. “I was also surprised to find out how many students said they had gotten their first cell phones as early as Grade 2 or 3,” he notes.

According to the study, most students use their phones to play games and participate in social media, not to take and make calls, or keep in touch with their parents. 

“As the kids get older, a higher percentage have cell phones and constant access to it, which leads to potential issues in school, where they’re distracted and don’t learn to socialize,” says Chorney. “We want kids focused and on-task in the classroom.”

Despite his reservations about younger people having cell phones, the former teacher says barring cell phone use in schools is not the answer.

“I can see both sides of it. An outright ban could work, but it would take a lot of undue effort and fight between kids and their parents. I think we can find a middle ground,” he says.

Chorney notes data for his study, which surveyed 264 Grade 5 students across the Edmonton Catholic Schools division, was gathered prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It would be interesting to give these same survey questions to the Grade 5 students of today and see how different the responses are to those we got before.”

The full story can be seen here. To speak with David Chorney, please contact:

Debra Clark
University of Alberta communications associate