School Cellphone Bans Are Trending. Do They Work?

School Cellphone Bans Are Trending. Do They Work?

Proponents say no-phone rules reduce student distractions and bullying. Critics say the bans could hinder student self-direction and critical thinking.

Earlier this year, Florida passed a law requiring public schools statewide to ban student cellphone use during class time. The new state rules reflect an intensifying global crackdown on young people and social media.

In early October, the British government issued new guidelines recommending that student cellphone use be prohibited in schools nationwide. That followed Italy, which last year banned cellphones during lessons, and China, which two years ago barred children from taking phones to school.

A recent report from UNESCO, the United Nations’ educational and cultural agency, found that nearly one in four countries now has laws or policies banning or restricting student cellphone use in schools. Such bans typically make exceptions for students with disabilities and for educational uses approved by teachers.

Even so, the smartphone crackdowns are contentious.

Proponents say the bans prevent students from scrolling through social media and sending bullying text messages, reducing classroom distractions. Critics warn that cutting off students from their phones could disproportionately punish those with jobs or family responsibilities — and that enforcing the bans could boost harsh disciplinary measures like school suspensions.

While some schools have had a significant decrease in cyberbullying incidents, there is little rigorous research on the long-term effects of the bans.

School districts in the United States have been experimenting with phone bans for more than 30 years.

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