Ask SMUS: What Has Changed About the SMUS Smartphone Policy?

Ritch Primrose

The unmistakable buzz of back-to-school is slowly returning to campus. In the coming days and weeks, students will settle in to the school year, with a fresh slate of courses, exciting new opportunities, and endless possibilities awaiting them. One of the most important things each student will do to start the year is establish daily routines, and we aim to give them the knowledge and tools to be as healthy as possible. Sleep, exercise and nutrition are key, as is finding ways to manage the challenges, obstacles and even failures.

A healthy relationship with technology – particularly their phones – is also something students need in order to be successful. For most parents, guardians and certainly most teachers, developing healthy tech habits was never a concern when they were young. But for today’s students, we need to provide guidance.

This year we are moving to a graduated phone policy where:

  • Junior and Middle School students are not allowed to use phones at school (as with previous years);
  • Grade 9 and 10 students must keep their phones in their lockers or boarding rooms during the school day;
  • Grade 11 and 12 students will continue to follow the Off-and-Away policy we adopted last year.

Technology plays a prominent role in a SMUS education, but we are also very interested in managing students’ screen time, and ensuring their tech habits contribute to their well-being and the best-possible school climate. While it is clear that smartphones offer many benefits, it is widely accepted that excessive screen time can lead to many negative side effects, including distraction and mental health issues, and may be harmful to school culture.

Lessons from last year

Last year’s Off-and-Away policy took aim at improving our smartphone culture and reducing idle screen time.

We asked all Grade 9-12 students to keep their phones off and away when in public spaces, and with other students. Our main goal was – and continues to be – to decrease the time students spend on screens while increasing face-to-face interaction with one another, which will have a positive impact on our students’ mental health and on our school culture.

We reflected on the policy’s effectiveness this spring and a couple of things became clear:

  1. Our smartphone culture was better than the previous year; and
  2. There is still significant room for improvement.

Our new policy

Guided by the most recent research and with input from our students and faculty, we sought to further improve our policy by recognizing that students at different grade levels will have varying capacities for responsible tech use. 

Grade 9 and 10 students may bring phones to school but devices must be left in their lockers or in their boarding houses during the entire school day. This approach will liberate students from the pull of their devices in their pockets and reduce distraction during the school day.

Grade 11 and 12 students will have access to their devices, with our off-and-away philosophy remaining in place. As always, the dining hall, Chapel, homeroom and assembly remain phone-free for everyone.

Our hope is that this graduated approach will serve the Senior School’s younger students by eliminating a significant distraction. Our older students, who are beginning to think about life at university, will be asked to manage their devices in a healthy, measured way, preparing them for the next phase of their educational journey. Teachers and administrators will be along for the ride, modelling healthy tech-use, coaching and supporting students, and, if necessary, taking further steps to ensure this shift is successful.

How can parents help?

School start-up is a good time to have conversations with your kids about their tech use and whether they have a healthy relationship with their devices. How much screen time are they really being exposed to from morning until bedtime?

Parents can also help by being intentional in how you communicate with your kids during the school day. Regular texts and check-ins will make it difficult for students to be apart from their devices. Important messages can always be relayed to students through our school reception, and giving students some space during the school day allows them to build greater independence into their lives.

If you have any questions about this change or thoughts about how we can further support our students, please do not hesitate to comment below.

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Ritch Primrose
Ritch Primrose is the Director of Health and Wellness at St. Michaels University School, and the Director of Student Life at the SMUS Senior School.

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