Now that our schools have moved to a post-COVID learning environment, we know more about social media and smartphone use in the learning environment during the school day. There is an overwhelming research consensus on the adverse impacts of social media and smartphones on academic achievement, school culture and behavior, and students’ mental and emotional health.
The ubiquitous nature of social media and the unregulated use of smartphones on campuses has dramatically increased mental health issues, especially among prepubescent teens. The rise in anxiety, depression and self-harm among students, especially adolescent girls, represents a national crisis. Recent studies by JAMA Pediatrics report that the number of emergency room visits for self-harm has nearly doubled compared to pre-smartphone levels and continues to rise.
In addition, social media and smartphones have exacerbated feelings of loneliness and isolation among students — even while surrounded by their peers in school. Smartphones today are ever-connected devices that keep children connected to the world beyond their brain development and expose their brains to material that they are ill-equipped or ready to navigate on their own.
Moreover, social media and smartphones have resulted in a decline in academic performance. A 2022 Harvard study demonstrated that allowing cell phones in schools negatively affects reaction times, performance, enjoyment of focal tasks and cognitive capacity. Students cannot focus on all of the distractions caused by social media. Another study indicated that students check their smartphones every 8.6 minutes. As a result, they cannot effectively learn and concentrate in this type of environment.
As a school administrator for five pre-K-12 campuses in Pasco, I can attest to the positive effects of a systemwide social media and smartphone restriction policy during the school day. This means, unless approved by a teacher, students should not use their smartphones in the classrooms, hallways, or during lunchtime, recess or school-day activities. Additionally, smartphones must be stored in backpacks for emergency use only or when permitted by a faculty member.
Jonathan Haidt, a nationally renowned social psychologist and leading voice on the effect of social media on adolescents and teens, and psychologist Jean Twenge and others are sounding the alarm on unregulated smartphone use among children. Schools must update their social media and smartphone policies to prevent children from addictive and disruptive nature of smartphones during school.
The Pasco School District will hold a workshop this month to review policies such as a systemwide social media and smartphone policy restricting usage during the school day and blocking all social media on school-issued devices and firewalls on WiFi campuses to prohibit access. It is time for other districts to take action to protect students’ mental and emotional health and academic performance.
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John Legg is an administrator and teacher at a K-12 charter school system in Pasco County. He served in the Florida Senate from 2012-2020 where he was chairperson of the Senate K-12 Committee and in the House from 2004-2012. He holds a doctorate in education with an emphasis in educational innovation.