The case against a blanket phone ban

Calls for banning smartphones in schools are being heard right around the world, following the recent lead of France and Albania. But what's the case for the other side?


Supporters of a blanket phone ban argue that it's not just academic performance that's at stake.  It’s children’s mental health and wellbeing. 

Consider, for example, these international findings:

  • In Australia, one in seven primary school children, and one in four secondary school students suffer from mental health issues, according to psychologist and cyber expert Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg.
  • In the US, the number of teens who reported feeling joyless or useless jumped 33 percent between 2010 and 2015, and symptoms of depression among teens rose by 50%, according to Professor Jean Twenge.
  • In Finland, mental health issues afflicted 20 to 25% of young people in 2017 - an all-time high, according to the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare.
  • An avalanche of data from around the world shows children are not getting enough sleep, eating enough healthful food or getting enough outdoor play.


MCGDr. Michael Carr-Gregg, psychologist and cyber expert, is leading a review into phone bans in schools for the NSW government 

But can we lay the blame for all of this - or even most of it - on smartphones? Many critics say no. Still others concede that screen-time may be substantially responsible, but argue that parents and educators should be advocating for more positive changes.

Washington Post education writer Valerie Strauss is one of them.  Instead of banning phones, she suggests, “we should teach children to live safe, responsible and healthful lives with and without their smartphones and other mobile devices.” But, Strauss insists, “schools can’t do this alone,” and a whole-community response is required.

Here’s what her reading of the research indicates children “really need to do”:

Sleep more

Most pediatricians recommend that school-age children (6 to 13 years old) get nine to 11 hours of sleep every night, and teenagers should sleep eight to 10 hours every night to function best. However, few actually do get that much sleep. National Sleep Foundation data suggests only 15 percent of teens sleep at least 8.5 hours a night during school week.

Solution: Teach children the importance of sleep. Work with parents to agree to shut down mobile devices two hours before bedtime and keep them away from bedrooms. Assign students an hour’s extra sleep as homework. Keep a log of how children sleep, and monitor the effects of sleep on their well-being.

Play more outside

Children’s opportunities to play have diminished markedly. The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified three reasons why: because parents spend less time with their children outdoors, because children are more engaged with technology, and because schools expects students to do more and faster. In many schools, children do no play whatsoever. In fact, as of 2016, just 13 U.S. states mandated recess periods for all children during school days.

Solution: Make 15-minute hourly recess a basic right for all students. Use schoolyard and nature for recess, play and physical activity as often as possible. Teach parents about the importance of free outdoor play and encourage them to spend more time with their children outdoors.

Spend less time with digital media

Children spend much more time daily with digital devices than ever before - and they often learn these habits from their parents. A recent British study found that about 51 percent of infants 6 to 11 months old use a touch screen daily. According to a 2015 Common Sense Media survey, U.S. teenagers’ average daily media use, excluding time spent for school or for homework, was nearly nine hours.

Solution: Teach students responsible and safe use of technology, and help them to find the best ways to limit smartphone use in school and at home. Make technology a tool, not a treat, in school and at home.

Read more books

Children are reading less than they did even a few years ago - and so are adults. Half of children in the United States today love or like reading books for fun, compared with 60 percent in 2010. In Finland, boys read so little that 1 in 8 are functionally illiterate.

Solution: Advise parents to buy books and read them with their children. Read regularly and discuss what you read in school and at home. Let children choose what they want to read. Visit libraries and bookstores and meet with book authors. Read books you hold in your hands more than those you read on a screen.

Write letters to ones you love

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that three out of four  12th- and 8th-graders lack proficiency in writing. Text messaging and cyber slang uses shortcuts, alternative words and symbols that may be further eroding students’ skillsets.  

Solution: Make writing a habit in school. Coach students in good writing and give them regular feedback. Use pen and paper alongside electronic tools. Encourage children to write a letter by hand to someone they love once a week.

The internet management provider of choice for more than 600 premier schools in Australia and beyond, Family Zone is proud of its unique, whole-community approach to healthy and balanced device use.  Like to learn more? Or interested in a demo? Click here

Topics: Screen time, sleep, Duty of Care, digital citizenship, classroom management, digital learning, screens in school, play, wellbeing, mental health

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