Is It Time to Remove Cellphones from Classrooms?
Can the genie be put back in the cellphone?
Every parent knows the challenges of getting children to turn off screens. The 1950s cliché of “Don’t sit so close to the TV” may seem quaint, but it was also a harbinger of things to come.
Seven decades ago, the concern was over compromising young eyes and brains. Today, issues related to excessive screen time are even more grave. In tracking the rise in depression among youth over the past decade or so, experts offer some pretty persuasive evidence that supports what parents suspected for years: Screen time can be perilous.
The current generation of kids have been raised on (and by) the internet. Conversations about addressing appropriate screen usage were overdue even before the pandemic exacerbated the problem.
France banned cellphones in elementary and middle schools four years ago. China instituted a ban last year, citing a need to protect students’ eyesight and to enhance their concentration. Similar actions have been taken in other corners of the world, and murmurings of bans in American classrooms are growing louder.
It’s not a new discussion. Some school districts started debating bans before current high schoolers were born. A few carried them out. Seymour instituted a ban in 2018. It was inspired by bullying, but reportedly had the ancillary benefits of improved grades.
Torrington students staged a walkout after a policy denying phone access was launched in March. Earlier this month, Branford announced that phones, Apple Watches, Airpods and other electronics could no longer join students in the classrooms.
Many such policies were declared with considerable use of euphemisms. Stamford officials were more direct about what’s driving consideration of a new cellphone policy. A recent middle school fight occurred at the same school where students recorded themselves participating in a TikTok challenge simulating the firing of a gun at the camera.
School districts need to have difficult discussions about the pros and cons of student phone use. Teachers on the front lines need to be allowed to steer the discourse, and districts should consult best practices from other communities.
Emergency rooms are seeing disturbing increases in the number of teens committing self-injury, but the trend predates the social isolation of COVID. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites a 44 percent increase over the past 13 years of youths reporting making a suicide plan.
The world is not a great place to grow up in right now. Kids are living in the shadow of the pandemic, a war and an unpredictable economy. Social media can be an escape, but it can also be a rabbit hole. Studies by the likes of Clinical Psychological Science suggest adolescents who spent more time on social media platforms and cellphones are more likely to report mental health issues.
The healthier peers seem to have followed advice that has been passed along by those 1950s parents. They limit technology use and engage in sports and in-person interactions.
There is no magic number, but studies suggest students with more than three hours a day of screen time pivot toward depression.
In other words, there is a way to put the genie back in the cellphone. Just turn it off.
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