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DENVER — If you're like most kids these days, you use a smartphone, and you use it often, but should smartphones go to middle school? That's a tricky one, and a question today's generation of parents is having to grapple with for the first time.
"We're in a learning generation. I don't want to be on the opposite of what we've learned," said concerned parent Angela Tapp. "My biggest fear is we don't understand the impact of the smartphones just yet."
For Tapp, it's the fear of what we don't know, and lack of a consistent policy for cell phone use in Jefferson County schools, that prompted her to not just question but to try to ban them.
"Never had one before and we're thrown into the idea of, 'Do we need a smartphone to be socially and academically successful?'" she said.
Tapp's son starts middle school in Jefferson County next year.
For now, she said she's opposed to adding a smartphone to his school supply list, but she doesn't want her kid to be in the minority. That's another reason she started a change.org petition to ban smartphones in Jefferson County middle schools until the district comes up with a clear policy.
"I don't believe there's a place for them. There's a lot of data that supports that even the feeling of a vibration on your hip when you're taking a test can lower test scores," Tapp said.
Are cell phones in the classroom an added resource or a distraction?
Arvada West sophomore Ashley Piper understands how phones can be a distraction in school.
"People just get distracted by it, if it buzzes or something and it takes away from the learning," she said.
On the other hand, parents like Jenn Kasper see phones in school as another tool kids can use in the classroom and she doesn't think the decision to have one should be up to the school district or other parents.
"She's my child and I should make the decision, not the school," Kasper said. "My other daughter uses her phone in school and she uses it to audio record classes because she's dyslexia and she needs to have that to remember her assignments."
Kasper said she bought her youngest daughter, who's going into middle school, a smartphone when she was 10. That's the average age most kids get a phone, according to the research firm Influence Central. That's down from age 12 in 2012.
A lifeline to phone home in an emergency
Even more importantly, Kasper said her kids can reach her if they need help.
"I think it's good that she has a cell phone because then I can contact her because we don't have a landline at home," she said.
At the end of the day, that's why sophomore Ashley Piper said she is against the ban.
"I like to have it, even if I'm not on it. I like to have it just in case something happens," said Piper.
But Angela said that's yet another reason for a ban. Kids snapping, chatting, and tweeting during a lockdown or school shooting, she said, can hurt more than it helps.
"We have seen an indication that students can flood the cell phones and really take down the communications that they need in a time of crisis," Tapp said.
Where does the school administration stand?
"I would assume talking about getting rid of cell phones or severely limiting cell phone use in our schools would be a pretty heated discussion," said Jefferson County Schools spokeswoman Diana Wilson.
She said the district always wants to hear from its parents. They have heard the many arguments for and against the ban and the district is just trying to find the right balance.
"There are definite risks but as a school district we think the positives outweigh the negatives," she said.
Wilson said the district does have a policy for cell phone use in the classroom, but it's left up to each principal to decide what's best for their school.
What do we really know about the impacts of cell phone use on kids?
One more point worth exploring comes from Emily Marcheschi, a psychologist with Children's Hospital Colorado.
"We're learning a lot from the mistakes and the good choices being made by the parenting generation," said Marcheschi.
She understands all points of view, but adds we just don't know how nonstop phone time is impacting our kids.
"It really depends so significantly on the developmental and maturity level of each individual kid," she said.
Which brings us back to why Tapp wants a ban until we know more about the impacts of smartphones and what has become the heartbeat of a generation.
"They are working diligently on getting you to stay on the phone and until we get a handle on how that's impacting our young people, that's a direct impact on my family."