WE HAVE A tech-savvy 12yo in our home and he's facing restrictions on his use of a smartphone while on school grounds. Even though he doesn't bring a phone to school, he's watching with interest as the Irish Minister for Education Norma Foley writes a memo to Cabinet. The Minister wants a nationwide policy where parents are discouraged from buying smartphones for children of primary age.
While I agree with the need to educate parents about the addictive effects of smartphone usage I believe the government should offer a media campaign that shows how young people might be better equipped for the real world by creating content instead of simply swiping into doom scrolls.
I also believe the anti-smartphone posturing is a smokescreen for the lack of resources in our schools. I'd pump €10,000 grants to school principals who were willing to run smartphone usage information evenings for parents. Those grants could be used to fund educational supports and resources that children need more than they need smartphones. Throughout my newsfeeds I read about schools unable to pay heating and electricity bills this winter without support from Norma Foley's Department of Education.
Any Government initiative that attempts to remove the use of smartphones from school students will fail if the local school community--the parents--fail to support the bans. So everyone's ahead if the Department of Education gives money to schools to educate the community about the addictive nature and the negative impact on personal development when phones are substituted for in-person conversations.
Natasha Singer investigated what happened in Florida when phones were banned on school campuses in Orlando.
For members of an extremely online generation, their activities were decidedly analog. Dozens sat in small groups, animatedly talking with one another. Others played pickleball on makeshift lunchtime courts. There was not a cellphone in sight — and that was no accident.
In May, Florida passed a law requiring public school districts to impose rules barring student cellphone use during class time. This fall, Orange County Public Schools — which includes Timber Creek High — went even further, barring students from using cellphones during the entire school day.
In interviews, a dozen Orange County parents and students all said they supported the no-phone rules during class. But they objected to their district’s stricter, daylong ban.
Ireland doesn't plan to impose day-long bans. Students have described the all-day ban as unfair and infantilizing.
“They expect us to take responsibility for our own choices,”said Sophia Ferrara, a 12th grader at Timber Creek who needs to use mobile devices during free periods to take online college classes. “But then they are taking away the ability for us to make a choice and to learn responsibility.”
Like many exasperated parents, public schools across the United States are adopting increasingly drastic measures to try to pry young people away from their cellphones. Tougher constraints are needed, lawmakers and district leaders argue, because rampant social media use during school is threatening students’ education, well-being and physical safety.
In some schools, young people have planned and filmed assaults on fellow students and then uploaded the videos to platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Teachers and principals warn that social apps like Snapchat have also become a major distraction, prompting some pupils to keep messaging their friends during class.
As a result, many individual districts — among them, South Portland, Maine, and Charlottesville City, Va. — have banned student cellphone use throughout the day. Now Florida has instituted a more comprehensive, statewide crackdown.
The new Florida law requires public schools to prohibit student cellphone use during instructional time and block students’ access to social media on district Wi-Fi. It also requires schools to teach students about “how social media manipulates behavior.”
Some Irish commentators believe Norma Foley's proposed ban is designed to protect young people from the grips of social media. Others believe bans on smartphones in school yards will lead to better social interactions.
Without a complementary information campaign, a nationwide ban on smartphone usage equates to State control of personal technology habits. And as experiences in public Schools in Tampa shows, smartphone bans increase surveillance of students while hindering crucial communications for teenagers with family responsibilities or after-school jobs.
It is unclear how many other schools ban student cellphone use. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, published in 2021, reported that about 77 percent of schools prohibited nonacademic cellphone use during school hours.
“It was getting out of hand,” Ms. Rodriguez-Davis said, describing how students texted each other during class to arrange meetings in the bathroom, where they filmed dance videos. “I call them ‘Toilet TikToks.’”
The ban has made the atmosphere at Timber Creek both more pastoral and more carceral.
Mr. Wasko said students now make eye contact and respond when he greets them. Teachers said students seemed more engaged in class.
“Oh, I love it,” said Nikita McCaskill, a government teacher at Timber Creek. “Students are more talkative and more collaborative.”
I'm interested in hearing how our 12yo son and 16yo daughter weigh the cost of restrictions on their smartphone usage. As Natasha Singer has observed in the NY Times, "Such bans are upending the academic and social norms of a generation reared on cellphones." And if the ban extends to secondary schools, students will no longer use their phones to check class schedules during school, take photos of their projects in art class, find their friends at lunch, or add the phone numbers of new classmates to their contact lists. For some young people, losing access to their phone is being placed into an isolation chamber.