Do we need government intervention to rein in kids’ tech addiction?
California lawmakers introduced a bill that would restrict and, in some cases, ban the possession and use of smartphones during school hours. Assembly Bill 272 , proposed by 66th District Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D) on Tuesday, would require the state’s schools to adopt policies that monitor and limit phone use, even during school-sponsored activities.
“There is growing evidence that unrestricted use of smartphones by pupils at elementary and secondary schools during the school day interferes with the educational mission of the schools, lowers pupil performance, particularly among low-achieving pupils, promotes cyberbullying, and contributes to an increase in teenage anxiety, depression, and suicide,” reads the bill.
The LA Times notes that similar procedures are already in place at a district level. The Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School Board, for example, instituted a policy in which all children in grades K-5 must keep their phones off during school hours, while older students must obtain teacher approval to keep theirs on.
France, meanwhile, adopted a nationwide smartphone ban in all elementary and middle schools last year. It also included all internet-connected devices, such as tablets. Ontario, Canada is also considering a ban on use in schools.
The newly introduced California bill highlights a 2015 study that analyzed the effects of smartphones on children’s education. The London School of Economics found that test scores improved significantly at schools that banned mobile phone use, and that “the most significant gains in pupil performance were made by the most disadvantaged and underachieving pupils.” Banning phones reportedly adds up to the academic equivalent of an extra week of school.
The potential harm of children’s tech use has been an ongoing concern for experts, as experts wonder what limits should–and realistically can–be set. In her book, The Art of Screen Time, Fast Company alum Anya Kamenetz cited a 2011 survey of 9,000 preschoolers (3- to 5-year-olds) that found that young kids spend about four hours a day in the company of (all types of) screens.
In a Fast Company survey of 400 parents, only a mere 1% expressed “no concerns” about their kids’ use of tech. The rest harbored fears that their children were becoming addicted to screens and developing a shortened attention span.
They have reason to be concerned: A 2016 survey from Common Sense Media found that 78% of teenagers check their devices at least hourly, and half said that they thought they were indeed addicted to their phones. Three out of four American teens own an iPhone.
Meanwhile, researchers believe such rampant use is linked to psychological issues. Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen, argues there’s evidence that screen time and social media use leads to increased depression among American teens. As cited in the bill, 8th-grade students who spend 10 or more hours per week on social media are 56% more likely to describe themselves as unhappy compared to those who devote less time online.