Should Cellphones Be Banned in the Classroom?

Proponents argue that cellphone bans prevent students from mindlessly scrolling through social media and reduce distractions in the classroom. A report from Common Sense Media, found that on a typical day, students received a median of 237 notifications and a quarter of those arrived during school hours. Another report from UNESCO, found that mere proximity to cellphones distracted students and had a negative impact on learning in 14 countries, yet less than one in four have banned cellphone use in classrooms. The U.S. Department of Education reported that approximately 77% of schools prohibited nonacademic cellphone use during school operating hours.

Proponents also argue that bans help reduce bullying by preventing text messages and social media posts at school. According to a 2021 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16% of high school students in the United States were electronically bullied through texting, Instagram, and other social media. National reports, however, achieve conflicting results. A survey released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that cellphone bans resulted in a higher percentage of cyberbullying. Alternatively, a study of two regions in Spain that enacted cellphone bans resulted in decreased cyberbullying. 

In further support of cellphone bans, proponents cite improved academic performance. Studies from BelgiumSpain, and the United Kingdom demonstrate this phenomenon. A study in Norway found that banning cellphones had a significant impact on grades and decreased reported bullying. 

While under certain conditions the use of technology in education can enhance children’s opportunity to learn, it can also put their physical and mental integrity, privacy, and dignity at risk.

In Florida, a recently enacted law requires public schools statewide to ban cellphones in the classroom. The new law requires public schools to ban cellphone use during class time, blocks student’s access to social media through Wi-Fi, and requires teachers to instruct students about “how social media manipulates behavior.” However, at Timber Creek High, a High School in Orlando, students are banned from using cellphones throughout the school day. As a result, students’ engagement in classrooms has increased and cellphone related school incidents, such as bullying, have decreased. 

In England, new guidance from the Department for Education recommends banning cellphone use throughout the school day, including break times, in an attempt to combat disruptive behavior and online bullying while boosting learning. According to government data, 29% of secondary school students reported cellphones being used at inappropriate times in most, or all, lessons. Other countries have already implemented a ban, including France, Italy, Portugal, and China.

Alternatively, critics argue that cellphone bans hinder student development, freedom, and familiarity with emerging technologies. Critics also argue that banning cellphone use punishes those with after-school jobs or family responsibilities. Students argue that they feel unsafe as they are unable to reach out to their parents or authorities in an emergency. Notably, students at Timber Creek are forced to go to the front office and ask permission to contact their parents. Furthermore, students who come from low-income families cannot afford laptops and instead rely on cellphones for schoolwork. For example, Sophia Ferrara, a Senior at Timber Creek, required her cellphone during free periods to take online college classes.

Whether the benefits of cellphone bans outweigh the costs of impinging on students’ interaction with technology is an issue that should be the subject of more empirical research. With the growing usage and reliance of technology in each new generation, the need for further guidance is evident. The UNESCO reporturges clear policies, clarity on the role technologies play in learning, and student education on the risks and opportunities that accompany technology in order to develop critical thinking skills and responsible usage with innovative technologies. 

Kevin Solari

Kevin Solari is a second-year law student at the University of North Carolina School of Law. As a member of the Broun National Trial Team, Kevin is interested in litigation and has special interests in entrepreneurship and start-up companies. Prior to law school, he obtained his B.S. in Economics from the University of Central Florida.