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Teachers Grossly Outnumbered In The Struggle Against Smartphones

Dianna Douglas

For every exasperated teacher who feels like students have become surgically attached to smartphones, a new study from the Pew Research Center confirms that it’s true. A quarter of teens say they are online all day long with their phones.

Astrid Gamez loves posting pictures of her two baby chicks on Instagram.

“Everybody likes cute little pets,” she said.

The sophomore at Grady Spruce High School in East Dallas is among the 92 percent of teenagers who are online every day, mainly through the powerful computers in their pockets.

Beyond her chicks, Astrid looks to Instagram to figure out what she might expect from life after high school.

“Just to see how older people like their life, basically,” she said.

There are things about Instagram that she doesn’t like.

“Most girls show off too much of their bodies, and it sends the wrong message to other girls,” she said.

In the Pew survey three years ago, fewer than half of teens had their own smartphones. Now, three-quarters of them do.

“That’s certainly more than we were expecting,” said Amanda Lenhart, associate director for research at the Pew Research Center.

“Many teens now say they go online constantly, about a quarter of teens say they do that. More than nine in 10 are online daily, and nine in 10 teens go online with mobile devices,” she said.

Lenhart found that half of black and Latino teens use messaging apps, compared with a quarter of white teens. They also saw that girls tend to use their phones for social media, and boys for playing games.

“I used to have a Facebook, but I don’t use it anymore—the last time I signed in was like three months ago,” said Rosario Cantu, a sophomore at Grady Spruce. “Instagram doesn’t interest me. It’s just a bunch of pictures.”

How many times a day does he reach into his pocket to play games?  "Too many to count.”

Fed up with this kind of behavior, the school started a zero-tolerance policy for phones in classrooms and in the halls last month. Confiscated phones go to the front office now.

Heather MacKenzie, a journalism teacher, will take anything over the constant battles with her students over phones.

“It’s so annoying, it literally makes me crazy,” she said of seeing her kids surreptitiously glance under their desk and text away on their phones. “As much as kids say they can multitask, they can't."

MacKenzie says the rules have helped -- to a point.

“The very first day of the policy, a student’s phone rings, and he answers it. It blew me away. It was pretty egregious,” she said.

The internet is full of videos of teachers smashing phones in similar circumstances. MacKenzie just confiscated it.

Students have to pay $5  to get their phones back. The second time, it’s $10, then $15, and then the school will keep the phone through the end of the school year.

While her students grouse about the rules being draconian and probably illegal, MacKenzie is a fan.

“For the most part it’s been wonderful, because I finally have their attention,” she said.

Rosario Cantu admits that he’s undeterred by the new school rules.

It will take a little more than threats to keep him off his phone during the long school day.