Take phones out of schools, now!

Take phones out of schools, now!

The Atlantic/*Nga Jonathan Haidt

In May 2019 I was invited to give a lecture at my old high school in Scarsdale, New York. Before the talk, I met with the director and his senior administrators. I heard that the school, like most high schools in America, was struggling with a huge increase in mental illness among its students. Primary diagnoses were depression and anxiety disorders, with increased rates of self-harm. Girls were especially vulnerable. I was told that mental health problems increased when students reached ninth grade. Coming out of high school, many students were already anxious and depressed. Many were also already addicted to their phone.

Ten months later, I was invited to give a speech at Scarsdale High School. There, too, I met with the principal and her key administrators and heard the same thing: the mental health issues had gotten much worse recently. Even many of the students who entered the sixth grade, coming out of elementary school, were already anxious and depressed. And many, were addicted to their phone.

It's time for parents and educators to ask: Should we make school phone-free? Would this reduce rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm? Would it improve educational outcomes? I believe the answer to all these questions is yes.

The more phone contact students have, the worse they perform on tests. Smartphones not only distract students from their schoolwork, but also distract them from each other.

If we want kids to be present, learn well, make friends and feel like they belong at school, we need to keep smartphones and social media out of the school environment for as long as possible.⁠

*Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at the NYU Stern School of Business and co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind.