By Tylar Bloch

Schools across the country are tightening up their policies to minimize smartphone use, ranging from full-fledged smartphone bans to stricter guidelines around what constitutes permissible smartphone use during school hours. Research done in 2020 by the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that smartphone bans were implemented in over 75% of schools in the US, with some districts even requiring students to keep their phones in lockable pouches (known not-so-playfully as “phone jails”) during school hours. Concerned about how at-school smartphone use impacts students’ learning and their ability to pay attention during class, more and more schools are taking action to redefine the role technology ought to play—or not play—in the classroom.

But as education-policy expert Dylan Lukes suggests, phone bans at school may miss the mark by setting unrealistic expectations about how students should interact with technology. Namely, when schools outright forbid devices that are, whether we like it or not, a reality of modern life, they sidestep important learning opportunities around how students can develop greater self-regulation and tech literacy, areas that are critical to becoming digital citizens. Other experts contend that smartphone bans undermine the benefits of online connection, which can be especially important for minority groups.

Which is why some of the best solutions to the problem of excessive smartphone use at school incorporate frequent conversations between students and educators about the importance of mindful smartphone use, with concrete strategies for achieving greater balance. In particular, encouraging students to turn their phones off or keep them on airplane mode can increase the friction of smartphone use without fostering an adversarial relationship with technology. Even if students keep their phones in their pockets, with the right conversations and strategies for moderating smartphone use, teachers can build a culture of technological awareness that is both pragmatic and intuitive.

Conversation Starters

  1. How much time do you think you spend on your phone when at school?
  2. If you use your phone at school, what are you normally using it for?
  3. What school subjects do you find yourself engaged in more than others?
  4. How can you work with your classmates to collectively reduce phone use during class?


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