Student Well-Being

To Ban or Not to Ban? Educators, Parents, and Students Weigh In on Cellphones

By Isaiah Hayes & Arianna Prothero — June 05, 2024 5 min read
Hands holding smartphone. The screen is lighting everything up.
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One reason policing cellphones in schools is so challenging is because of stakeholders’ varying opinions on their presence in the classroom, along with different views on how the problem should be dealt with—if at all.

Simultaneously taking into account the interests of students, parents, and teachers in crafting cellphone policies has proven to be a challenge. For example, while teachers may want the constant distractions of cellphones—and the hundreds of notifications they deliver each day—removed, parents may desire the security of reaching their children at any time.

Various educators have outwardly opposed the use of cellphones in classrooms, citing students’ inability to remain focused while having access to their devices. Yet educators are still divided on banning cellphones in the classroom altogether.

Education Week has spoken with many school community members, from superintendents to students, to hear their points of view. Here, we share some of the major themes that have emerged from their comments and thoughts—from Education Week reporting and recent surveys from the EdWeek Research Center.



Teachers find cellphones to be a major classroom distraction

Teachers find cellphones a major classroom distraction

According to an October 2023 EdWeek Research Center survey, 24 percent of teachers thought cellphones should be banned from school campuses altogether. The growing push to restrict cellphones at school has come amid increasing concerns about and studies pointing to children’s deteriorating mental health in connection to smartphone and social media use.

Kelly Chevalier, a science teacher at Crown Point High School in northwest Indiana, told Education Week in April that her students are constantly on their phones—be it for messaging their friends, Googling information, or just playing games—describing their use as “an addiction.”

The idea of being without their phone for three hours—it literally causes some of them physiological anxiety.

As part of that October survey by the EdWeek Research Center, over 200 educators used an open-ended question to vent about their growing concerns over cellphones.

Some compared students’ use of cellphones to an addiction or described circumstances in which students became panicked over having their cellphones taken from them.

It’s impossible as a teacher to compete with the allure and addiction to the cellphone. It’s constantly alerting them, pinging, chiming, and crying for their attention.


Principals agree with the ban, concerned with the impact of social media on student well being

Administrators agree banning phones on campus, some concerned with social media’s impact on student well-being

According to the EdWeek Research Center’s survey, 21 percent of principals agreed that cellphones should be banned on campus, as well as 14 percent of district leaders.

A 2022 Nature Communications study of over 17,000 teenagers and young adults suggests middle school students, in particular, are more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media.

Students have made their voices heard on the negative impacts of social media, from worsening grades to cyberbullying. Charles Longshore, assistant principal of Dothan Preparatory Academy in Dothan, Ala., has seen it firsthand with his 7th and 8th grade students.

Longshore blames cellphones for “seriously undermining” the climate of his school, causing him to spend more of his time dealing with phone-related disciplinary referrals and arguments. As a result, Longshore supports barring students from cellphone use during school hours.

Our population being in that rough transitional phase in their lives in general, what their minds are going through, their bodies are going through, socially what they are going through, [cellphones] were the ultimate distraction.

The school’s ban on cellphones stemmed from the serious distractions they presented for students in the classroom and on campus.

Social media is an important aspect of the cellphone use debate largely because, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey, 58 percent of teens ages 13-17 use TikTok daily, and around 50 percent use Snapchat and Instagram daily. As Dothan, Ala. administrators have seen, social media has become a source of public embarrassment and bullying among students.

In fact, a 2024 EdWeek Research Center survey found that 92 percent of educators believe social media has a somewhat negative to very negative impact on how students treat others in real life.



Students and parents both weigh in on cellphone and social media bans

Students and parents weigh in on cellphone and social media bans

While many educators openly oppose students’ use of cellphones at school, some parents and students believe avoiding or restricting cellphone use may actually hurt students’ emotional and academic development.

Ava Havidic, a recent graduate of Millennium 6-12 Collegiate Academy in Tamarac, Fla., and a student facilitator for the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Student Leadership Network on Mental Health, believes preparing students for the future does not require banning their use of cellphones and social media.

Whether we put bans on social media, it's just going to make it harder for them to face those challenges in the future. For example, if they don't have access to [phones] in class, what about in college when they have the freedom to do that?

Trent Bowers, superintendent of the Worthington district in the Columbus, Ohio, metro area is a father of three and believes teachers and parents should have more engagement in crafting new policies. But he does agree with the positive implications of a cellphone ban.

As a dad of three daughters, one still in high school, I see real pluses and minuses for the time they spend on phones. Speaking as a dad, I wouldn't have minded for them not to have the ability to be on phones for six or seven hours a day because it would've just given them a break from that.


Some teachers and experts still believe cellphone bans should see a more balanced approach

Some teachers and experts believe in a more balanced approach to cellphone bans

With rising phone ownership among students ages 8-18, some teachers don’t believe in challenging the use of cellphones in school.

Nicole Clemens, an English teacher at a central Missouri high school, believes educators need to come to terms with coexisting with phones. While Clemens teaches at the same high school her daughter went to in June 2022, she still finds it comforting to be able to reach her through a text.

There are so many teachers who are anti-cellphone, and I just think that that ship has sailed. You don’t have to like them, but you do have to figure out how to coexist with them.

Clemens believes students should be taught the importance of using their devices responsibly, instead of having them completely taken away.

According to research by Common Sense Media, 43 percent of children ages 8-12, and 88-95 percent of teenagers age 13-18 own a smartphone. In fact, about half of children in the United States own a smartphone by the time they are 11.

Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician and the director of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, is concerned with cellphones being too much of a distraction, but believes schools should avoid banning them, as such a move can feel “threatening to parents” who want to be in contact with their children during school hours.

They’re building their own society. If you have Mom or Dad in your head all day long, [adolescents] never get to learn or practice taking care of themselves or being themselves in that environment.

Rich suggests a cellphone-free environment for students, without the restrictions of a ban, which could spark resistance from parents.

David Yeager, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, believes the struggle between educators and students over cellphones is making the problem worse. He said it’s important for educators to understand why cellphones and social media are so alluring to the adolescent brain.

If adults learn to see teenagers’ phone use in a more compassionate way, that our entire economy has squeezed this huge source of information about their social well-being into this tiny device, it’s totally reasonable for them to pay attention to that device.

Yeager also believes a ban is unnecessary and that “empathy from educators can go a long way,” given the idea that cellphone use is constantly seen as a sign of defiance or a student’s lack of impulse control.

A Colorado high school lifted its ban on cellphones and has decided to incorporate the devices into instruction. Chris Page, principal of Highlands Ranch High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., feels cellphones present useful educational opportunities for students and educators.

There are 100,000 ways that kids use their cellphones and the other half of this is that it’s hard to tell a kid not to use their cellphone when the adult in front of them has to use theirs. We decided we just weren’t going to fight that fight anymore.

While Page encourages the students’ use of cellphones in the classroom, teachers create their own rules regarding their use. Page believes it’s his school’s responsibility to teach students how to manage their cellphone use to prepare them for college and work.

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