To ban or not to ban? Educators, parents, and students weigh in on cellphones

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One reason policing cellphones in schools is so challenging is because of stakeholders’ varying opinions on their presence in the classroom, along with different views on how the problem should be dealt with – if at all.


Simultaneously taking into account the interests of students, parents, and teachers in crafting cellphone policies has proven to be a challenge. For example, while teachers may want the constant distractions of cellphones – and the hundreds of notifications they deliver each day – removed, parents may desire the security of reaching their children at any time.

Various educators have outwardly opposed the use of cellphones in classrooms, citing students’ inability to remain focused while having access to their devices. Yet educators are still divided on banning cellphones in the classroom altogether.

Education Week has spoken with many school community members, from superintendents to students, to hear their points of view. Here, we share some of the major themes that have emerged from their comments and thoughts – from Education Week reporting and recent surveys from the EdWeek Research Center.

Teachers find cellphones a major classroom distraction

According to an October 2023 EdWeek Research Center survey, 24% of teachers thought cellphones should be banned from school campuses altogether. The growing push to restrict cellphones at school has come amid increasing concerns about and studies pointing to children’s deteriorating mental health in connection to smartphone and social media use.

Kelly Chevalier, a science teacher at Crown Point High School in northwest Indiana, told Education Week in April that her students are constantly on their phones – be it for messaging their friends, Googling information, or just playing games – describing their use as “an addiction”.

As part of that October survey by the EdWeek Research Center, over 200 educators used an open-ended question to vent about their growing concerns over cellphones.

Some compared students’ use of cellphones to an addiction or described circumstances in which students became panicked over having their cellphones taken from them.

Administrators agree banning phones on campus, some concerned with social media’s impact on student well-being

According to the EdWeek Research Center’s survey, 21% of principals agreed that cellphones should be banned on campus, as well as 14% of district leaders.

A 2022 Nature Communications study of over 17,000 teenagers and young adults suggests middle school students, in particular, are more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media.

Students have made their voices heard on the negative impacts of social media, from worsening grades to cyberbullying. Charles Longshore, assistant principal of Dothan Preparatory Academy in Dothan, Alabama, has seen it firsthand with his 7th and 8th grade students.

Longshore blames cellphones for “seriously undermining” the climate of his school, causing him to spend more of his time dealing with phone-related disciplinary referrals and arguments. As a result, Longshore supports barring students from cellphone use during school hours.

The school’s ban on cellphones stemmed from the serious distractions they presented for students in the classroom and on campus.

Social media is an important aspect of the cellphone use debate largely because, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey, 58% of teens ages 13-17 use TikTok daily, and around 50% use Snapchat and Instagram daily. As Dothan, Alabama administrators have seen, social media has become a source of public embarrassment and bullying among students.

In fact, a 2024 EdWeek Research Center survey found that 92% of educators believe social media has a somewhat negative to very negative impact on how students treat others in real life.

Students and parents weigh in on cellphone and social media bans


While many educators openly oppose students’ use of cellphones at school, some parents and students believe avoiding or restricting cellphone use may actually hurt students’ emotional and academic development.

Ava Havidic, a recent graduate of Millennium 6-12 Collegiate Academy in Tamarac, Florida, and a student facilitator for the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Student Leadership Network on Mental Health, believes preparing students for the future does not require banning their use of cellphones and social media.

Trent Bowers, superintendent of the Worthington district in the Columbus, Ohio, metro area is a father of three and believes teachers and parents should have more engagement in crafting new policies. But he does agree with the positive implications of a cellphone ban.

Some teachers and experts believe in a more balanced approach to cellphone bans

With rising phone ownership among students ages 8-18, some teachers don’t believe in challenging the use of cellphones in school.

Nicole Clemens, an English teacher at a central Missouri high school, believes educators need to come to terms with coexisting with phones. While Clemens teaches at the same high school her daughter went to in June 2022, she still finds it comforting to be able to reach her through a text.

Clemens believes students should be taught the importance of using their devices responsibly, instead of having them completely taken away.

According to research by Common Sense Media, 43% of children ages 8-12, and 88-95% of teenagers age 13-18 own a smartphone. In fact, about half of children in the United States own a smartphone by the time they are 11.

Dr Michael Rich, a pediatrician and the director of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, is concerned with cellphones being too much of a distraction, but believes schools should avoid banning them, as such a move can feel “threatening to parents” who want to be in contact with their children during school hours.

Rich suggests a cellphone-free environment for students, without the restrictions of a ban, which could spark resistance from parents.

David Yeager, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, believes the struggle between educators and students over cellphones is making the problem worse. He said it’s important for educators to understand why cellphones and social media are so alluring to the adolescent brain.

Yeager also believes a ban is unnecessary and that “empathy from educators can go a long way,” given the idea that cellphone use is constantly seen as a sign of defiance or a student’s lack of impulse control.

A Colorado high school lifted its ban on cellphones and has decided to incorporate the devices into instruction. Chris Page, principal of Highlands Ranch High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, feels cellphones present useful educational opportunities for students and educators.

While Page encourages the students’ use of cellphones in the classroom, teachers create their own rules regarding their use. Page believes it’s his school’s responsibility to teach students how to manage their cellphone use to prepare them for college and work.

-Education Week, Bethesda/Tribune News Service


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