Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows 91% of schools banned nonacademic use of phones during the 2009-10 school year, a figure that declined to 66% by 2015-16 before rebounding to 77% in 2019-20.
Over the past 10 years or so, cellphones have gone from not being allowed in classrooms to a common sight. But since Maple Grove Middle School reinforced its cellphone ban a year ago, school officials say the difference has been like "night and day."
Before, Principal Patrick Smith says there were no cross-table conversations, no interactions in the hallways, and students were distracted from learning. But now, with the blessing of the parents, students are encouraged to leave their phones in their lockers during the day, and devices are confiscated if students are caught using them.
"In the grand scheme of things, kids are happy," Smith recently told a local news outlet. "They're engaging with each other."
Melanie Hempe with ScreenStrong says putting a smartphone in a young person's hands only makes life more difficult.
"As if adolescence isn't already hard enough, we are now tying their hands behind their backs," she poses. "They have a hard enough time just figuring out their identity and all the things that go with rejection and figuring out how to be social and how to have friends and how to study and how to balance and manage their time. If we just stop for a brief second and look at the picture of what we've done in our culture with giving kids smartphones all day, everybody knows this is a bad idea. It's not hard to figure out."
She says students with smartphones invest so much time in developing their online personality, which is often fake, and they neglect real life, avoiding many of the bumps in the road that help build confidence.
"This is why kids are getting so depressed and why they have been depressed for so many years over this issue," Hempe submits.
The bad content on the internet aside, she reiterates that phones simply make kids' lives more difficult. Even so, many parents are concerned their kids will not fit in without one.
"Trust me -- you do not want your kids to fit in to what's happening online," Hempe asserts.
At Maple Grove, Principal Smith says "not one parent or community member" has pushed back against the cellphone ban. "It's been very, very much supported by our community and our parents and our staff," he accounts.
"The fact that this school is giving them this incredible gift of having their school day free from the chains of their smartphone is amazing, and I just wish everybody would follow suit," Hempe responds.