May 25, 2024

Parents Should Support School Smartphone Bans

Find this content useful? Share it with your friends!

Parents who support their children’s mental health, ability to focus and learn in school, and to enrich their conversations with fellow students, will support efforts to ban smartphones during the school day. 

Last week we urged school districts to ban student use of smartphones during school hours. This week we ask parents to support those efforts.

Jon Haidt studies the impact of smartphones on today’s youth. He is a social psychologist and professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business. He studies the impact of smartphone technology, its ability to connect young people to addictive applications, and the negative impacts of social media.

He has found a concerning rise in anxiety, depression, behavior, and overall mental health in today’s youth – all closely linked to smartphone use. The earlier they get them, the more profound the harmful impacts.

Despite the mounting evidence, some parents will argue against school policies banning smartphone use. We hear stories of parents echoing their childrens’ demands to keep their phones close – even becoming confrontational with teachers and administrators.

Some say smartphones are a necessary tool that enhances their child’s education. Teachers can develop creative lesson plans built around smartphones, Haidt says. However, he adds that when students go on their smartphones for lessons, they are too easily derailed. There is the irresistible draw of social media and messaging friends. 

Allowing students to keep their smartphones around for one teacher’s lesson plan infects the entire school system with the downsides of distraction and bullying. 

Among the most common justifications for students to have constant smartphone access during school hours is the need for parents to contact their child in the case of an emergency. 

“In his book ‘Paranoid Parenting,’ the sociologist Frank Furedi describes how a new style of protective parenting swept through British and American society in the 1990s, in response to the perception that risks to children were rising,” Haidt writes.

“When parents believe that everything is risky and they can’t trust other adults to protect their children, they take a more defensive approach to parenting. They try to protect their children from all risks, even when that deprives their children of valuable experiences of independence,” he says.

Parents of those children likely walked and biked to school in a time when crime rates were much higher, Haidt says. They likely hung out with friends after school and on the weekends away from constant “parental supervision.”

“I believe that children and teens would benefit developmentally if they were to go six or seven hours each day out of contact with their parents,” Haidt writes.

Parents bring up a fear of contacting their children if there is a school shooting. There have been far too many school shootings in recent years, terrifying parents, and students. Some fear going to school and argue their phones are a necessary protection and source of comfort. Haidt acknowledges this is a legitimate concern but points out why having smartphone access at such a time would be harmful.

“Would a school where every student has a smartphone be safer than one in which only the adults had smartphones?” Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, asks. He doesn’t think so. In fact, they may increase risk.

“During a lockdown, students should be listening to the adults in the school who are giving life-saving instructions. Phones can distract from that. Silence can also be key, so you also don’t want that phone noise attracting attention,” Haidt quotes Trump.

Haidt also imagines hundreds of cars rushing to the school to get their children. The ensuing chaos would make it hard for EMTs and law enforcement to do their jobs.

Parents and students will argue that they need smartphone access to arrange a ride after school or from basketball or volleyball practice. Such information can quickly be passed from the principal’s office to the student, as it was before smartphones came along.

One alternative for students and parents who feel that a phone is necessary is getting a “flip phone,” also called a “dumb phone.” It lacks the internet browsing capability of a smartphone. It doesn’t have applications that allow using social media. It doesn’t support texting.

“Dumb phones are helpful, not harmful,” Haidt says. “Smartphones are very different.” There are also dumb watches like the Gizmo Watch and others that students can use to stay in touch.

Smartphones are called “distraction machines” because they distract us from what is important. They could also be called “addiction machines” because their algorithms are written to maximize constant engagement.

“Americans generally give children their own phones in late elementary and early middle school, and for good reasons: we want to be able to reach our children to arrange activities, and we want them to be able to reach us if something goes wrong,” Haidt writes.

Rather than giving young children a smartphone or watch, give them a dumb one, he urges. “They do just what you want, and don’t do the things you most fear (providing 24-hour access to addictive social media, and video gaming, and more,)” Haidt writes.

In addition to supporting schools in banning smartphone use, parents need to exercise some self-discipline as well.

While child mental health experts and schools are recognizing how damaging addictive smartphone behavior has become, can the same insight be claimed for parents of these young people? Many are as addicted as their children. They set the example from which children learn.  

Schools may restrict cellphone use in the classroom and hallways, but they may also need to educate parents of students on the harm these addiction devices cause.

“All children deserve schools that will help them to learn, cultivate deep friendships, and develop into mentally healthy young adults. All children deserve phone-free schools,” Haidt says. Learning starts at home. Parents should set the example by limiting their own addiction to social media.

Find this content useful? Share it with your friends!