Sorry, Parents, Kids Need to Lose Their Phones in School

Jonathan Haidt makes the case for it in the 'Atlantic,' citing mental health, lack of focus
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2023 4:35 PM CDT
It's Time to Create Phone-Free Schools
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/mapo)

Last month, the US surgeon general released a report pointing to the links between social media and declining mental health in America's kids and teens, and Jonathan Haidt says the transition to cellphones in the late aughts and early 2010s has played a role. That's why he now thinks phones should be banned from schools—not just to improve academic outcomes, but also to help reduce depression and anxiety, improve face-to-face relationships, and foster "belonging." In an adaptation from his Substack, "After Babel," published in the Atlantic, Haidt writes that children's brains simply aren't developed enough yet to handle the barrage of distractions, or temptations, that come with having a cellphone in hand during the school day, and that even in schools with rules against using it during class, students find a way to sneak a look at their Instagrams and Snapchats.

This, in turn, leads to a lessening of focus and a decrease in social connection. Haidt looks at five different levels of phone use in schools, ranging from students using their phones openly but for class purposes only, to lockable phone pouches and phone lockers that keep kids from their phones until the end of the school day. The looser levels are "useless," he writes, while the more rigid levels "are the policies most likely to produce substantial educational, social, and mental-health benefits, because they are the only approaches that give students six or seven hours a day of time away from their phone." So where does most resistance come from? Parents, who fear something may happen during the school day and they'll be out of reach. Still, Haidt thinks that time without contact is healthy and necessary—and that even if a mass shooting were to happen, he's not sure it would be better for kids to have their phones: "All children deserve phone-free schools." His essay in full here. (More cellphones stories.)

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