Phones Should Be Excused from School

Educators, health professionals, and the media are all abuzz about “The Anxious Generation,” a new book by noted social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. In it, Haidt concludes that smartphones are causing massive harm to young people and are stunting their mental and academic growth.

According to Haidt, it didn’t take long for smartphones to have a negative impact on teen and pre-teen users. For example, the iPhone was introduced in 2007, and within five years there was a sharp increase in anxiety and depression among teens, as well as a decrease in test scores. Incidents of suicide and self-harm doubled, and, since 2010, suicide by teenage girls alone has risen by 134%. These statistics should come as no surprise, given that over 95% of teenagers now have 24/7 access to a smartphone (and thus the internet), where bullying, body shaming, and misinformation thrive.

Meanwhile, parents are playing the blame game. When they’re not testifying before Congress or holding press conferences, parents are suing social media companies like Instagram and Facebook who are being accused of deliberately designing features that addict children. During a recent Senate hearing, parents who have lost children to suicide blamed the Internet and called for the federal government to do something to hold tech giants accountable. But parents must also be held accountable. A recent PEW study reports that less than half of parents even attempt to limit the amount of time their child spends on their smartphones at home.

Clearly, Congress needs to regulate social media and parents could address the problem by simply taking away their child’s phone altogether. But since neither of those options is likely to take hold any time soon, we might look to public schools for an immediate solution.

Recently a number of school districts have begun to restrict cell phone use in order to remove distractions from classwork. In some cases, phones must be turned off before class begins. In other schools, teachers confiscate phones and hold them until after class. The problem is that such policies are not uniform within the district or the state. Carolina Journal’s David Larson reports that while the North Carolina School Boards Association recommends schools “tightly restrict smartphone use in class,” it is just that, a recommendation.

Again, some school districts are taking positive steps to restrict smartphone use. In Onslow County Schools, students can have smartphones, “so long as the devices are not activated.” Meanwhile, Craven County students have their phones confiscated until the end of the day, Charlotte/Mecklenburg Schools just announced it will soon adopt a policy of prohibiting cell phone use during class, and Winston-Salem/Forsyth Schools will vote on a more restrictive policy next month. But while these and other counties are taking steps to limit the use of phones, we need a statewide policy in order to effectively address the problem.

To that end, Lee County State Senator Jim Burgen has introduced SB 485, a bill that would order the Department of Public Instruction to investigate cell phone policies now in place around the state and develop strategies for implementing a uniform policy that would apply to and be enforced by all 100 counties.

Jonathan Haidt calls smartphones “an experience blocker” because addicted smartphone users don’t learn how to socialize, develop appropriate habits, or handle loss with resilience. And as with any addiction, one would assume that kicking the smartphone habit would be difficult and meet with resistance. However, there is one piece of good news in the PEW study. Nearly three-quarters of teenagers say they feel happy and peaceful when they don’t have their phones with them. Let’s see if we can keep those kids happy and peaceful all of the time.


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