Gustafson: The smartphones on the bus go click-swipe-click | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: The smartphones on the bus go click-swipe-click

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

It seems like the internet is eventually going to steal the innocence of our kids as they grow up in today's society. But are we speeding up the process by giving them open and unmonitored access to smartphones to and from school?

Learning does not stop when a student walks out of the school doors and knowing what our kids are exposed to when they are out of our care is challenging. I can't help but wonder, worry even, about the rising trend in online access taking place during the 20 to 40 minutes to and from school.

This isn't about talk/text devices like the Gizmo Gadget, or old flip phones for call and receive. I keep thinking about the steady increase in internet-ready devices like iPhones, tablets and Chromebooks that access a data plan and directly connect kids to the internet even when they are on district-provided school transportation.

The use of unmonitored, internet-ready devices where five-year-olds are sometimes in proximity to high school students does not feel like a safe environment, and the potential risks of a young person being exposed to overly mature digital content is real.

Our transportation regulations, which were adopted in 1974, have not been revised since 2013, but times are ever changing. Fewer elementary schoolers had iPhones in 2013, with a steady increase since in young kids carrying smartphones in our public schools. Those increases must be exponential among middle school and high school students. There are definitely kindergarten students with iPhones in 2018.

As a community we are encouraged to take advantage of public transportation and as parents that extends to our school community. With busy lives, juggling school hours that don't always mesh with working hours, and with Aspen Elementary School's' less than user-friendly campus, the school bus is often a matter of necessity.

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Since this school year began, my kids have already been shown clips of an R-rated horror film on YouTube from an iPad on the school bus. Last year I became personally aware of at least two incidents in which elementary age children were exposed to pornography while riding the school bus. It went beyond just hearing the word but actually being exposed to images and videos.

I get it. We can't shelter our kids from everything. In fact, I learned all the naughty words on the long school bus ride from Aspen out to Snowmass Village. In kindergarten, even while seated in the front row, I was still taught by an older boy that the middle finger was not just the tall one but the bad one. Still, that seems so insignificant by comparison with what can now be seen online: powerful, confusing, dangerous images that can burn their way into one's brain and stay there for the rest of his or her life.

And because social media like Instagram make access to violence and pornography exceedingly easy, it is always one click away. I feel like it might be time to reconsider school bus rules as we continue to adapt to the times.

Actually, I guess I'm old fashioned but why do kids need smartphones or iPads on the bus? I realize that due to the nature of kids today and the manner in which many of them have been raised on devices, asking kids to remain screen free and entertain themselves for 20 to 40 minutes in a vehicle is not a behavior they are familiar with.

Perhaps drivers can't safely enforce this rule, but in a perfect world — or well — in a good world filled with excessive-technology, all electronic devices used by kids, tweens and teens would have some parental control solution attached to them. With services like Forcefield, parents can lock their devices during bus riding and school hours. Noncompliance could be a bus-privilege offense.

Kids seem to have forgotten how to be bored, and are increasingly missing out on interpersonal social skills mostly because adults are giving kids electronics every time they get bored. I guess I also advocate for a little more boredom; be bored and learn how to socialize. Boredom kick-starts imagination, and connections happen best face to face.

Are schools in compliance with Children's Internet Protection Act when allowing internet access on the school bus? The act requires schools to have policies (1) preventing access by minors to inappropriate matter on the internet, and (2) implementing measures designed to restrict minors' access to harmful materials. The rules that already exist in school buildings should extend to their buses.

Most buses only have one adult driver burdened with the responsibility of transporting children safely, spending most of his/her time watching the road, which means that around 40 or more students can get up to whatever they want, particularly if it's quiet and hard to notice.

The risk of children exposing other children to damaging content is too great. This conversation should start now because, as with all technology-based dangers, we are already falling behind the trends.

Let's exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.