Lawmakers, researchers push for school phone bans citing mental health concerns

Some researchers and lawmakers are calling to ban phones in schools and keep smartphones out of the hands of young people until high school.

It comes amid concerning mental health trends and a look at how childhood has changed with technology.

Eleventh-grader Ailen De Bonis told Channel 9′s Elsa Gillis that in some ways, she’s addicted to her phone. But she said she knows when it’s time to put it down.

“For example, I had my AP exams coming up, and I was like, ‘I’m deleting TikTok. Like, I need to focus on my AP exams,’” she said.

Meal times, studying, and nighttime are off limits. But she does enjoy it for entertainment.

“Would you mind telling us like what your average screen time is?” Gillis asked.

“Yeah, mine’s five hours and three minutes, but I listen to a lot of music. So I think that accounts for a lot of it,” De Bonis said.

Teens average more than four hours a day on their smartphones, according to the nonprofit Common Sense Media, with some spending up to 16 hours a day.

It’s not just the older teens; Karter Mosely is an 11-year-old from Fort Mill who said all of his friends have phones. His mom, Latisha Jackson, said he’s not allowed to have his phone in school, but most other places are fine.

“Karter and I have a really good relationship,” Jackson said. “He knows you have access to a phone, you don’t have a phone. I can take that phone whenever I choose.”

Creating boundaries around phone use is critical, according to Zach Rausch, an associate research scientist at New York University and lead researcher for the new book “The Anxious Generation” by Jonathan Haidt.

“We see that there was a massive transformation of childhood between 2010 and 2015,” Rausch said.

That’s when smartphones overtook flip phones and social media really took off.

“Before 2010, rates of a lot of measures of mental health were relatively stable for teenagers,” Rausch said. “And then after 2010, things really start to change.”

Rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide changed. The book cites national studies that show since 2010, there’s been a 145% increase in major depression among girls age 12 to 17 and 161% increase among boys. Suicide rates are similarly alarming.

Rausch said it’s impossible to point to any one factor, but phones seem to play a role.

“We really do think that the mental health collapse is really driven and exacerbated by these two forces: The decline of the play-based childhood, the rise of the phone-based childhood,” he said.

“The Anxious Generation” team recommends a new norm that includes phone-free schools, no smartphones before high school, and no social media before age 16.

“We need to take, I believe, a pause and a reset, rethink what we want these technologies to be in our lives,” Rausch said. “We agree that we need to adapt, but we have a lot of control, we have agency to decide how we want to adapt. And we can choose to create a norm together.”

“I think just for teenagers, if you look at your phone and your screen time is like eight hours, just you know, taking a step back and thinking ‘OK, no, is this eight hours productive time?’” De Bonis said.

In South Carolina, lawmakers have added a provision to the 2025 state budget requiring school districts to restrict cellphone use in order to get certain funding from the state. The House and Senate committees still need to review the budget.

Researchers recommend if you have a young child and have yet to introduce a phone, find a group of families to do this together.

If you want to be able to be in touch with your child, use a flip phone or smart watch instead. If your child already has a phone, have lots of open conversations and create boundaries around when they can use it.

(WATCH BELOW: CMS to ban student cellphone use during class this year)

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