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Should schools ban cellphones?

Should schools ban cell phones and what should parents do?
Should schools ban cell phones and what should parents do? 04:40

BOSTON - Cellphones and kids. The debate about what to do has become one of the biggest issues of our time.

Boston Public Schools are looking for a tool to reduce cellphone use during the school day. Lowell is one local district that has banned them altogether.

More researchers are sounding the alarm about giving young children smartphones, and there is a growing parent movement called "Wait until 8th" to help children get their childhood back by keeping them away from middle schoolers.

Parents sign smartphone pledge  

Sean Tierney and Sheena Santos are the parents of a 14-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. They signed a pledge in the town of Bedford to hold off on buying their kids a smartphone until 8th Grade.

"I really hope that people wake up and see what's going on, because we're really hurting our next, the next generation," Sean Tierney said.

Sheena adds this was a crucial family decision. "It was very important to us that the smartphone was off the table," she said.

They've withstood a lot of social pressure but think it's time to do more and that schools should completely ban phones all day.

"100% no doubt in my mind," says Sean and Sheena added "absolutely."

Professor says engagement has "fallen off a cliff"  

But let's be honest - actually banning cellphones is hard, so we wanted to talk to a BU professor who's done it in her own classroom.

"This is not how humans, and especially kids, are meant to live," warns Professor of Rhetoric Joelle Renstrom.

The Senior Lecturer in the BU College of General Studies is like a voice from your child's future...she's taught writing for 15 years and has a message for young parents.

"The ability to be in that room physically and mentally and to actually be engaged has just fallen off a cliff," Renstrom says.

From what she's witnessed since the advent of the smartphone, she believes cellphones have to be banned in school, and parents need to lead the way.

"I think it's essential," Renstrom said.

As a teacher of writing at the college level, she's noticed a decline in reading comprehension and writing, students who are anxious and who exhibit signs of withdrawal when she required them to lock them away during class in "Yondr" pouches.

Brockton High School is one school district that has ordered the pouches and will begin using them in the fall.

"Students were experiencing this thing where they almost couldn't help themselves or control themselves and I was getting that enough that I kind of thought, 'I'll help you control yourself!'" Renstrom said.

Some parents might be concerned about not being able to reach their child in the event of an emergency. Professor Renstrom disagrees. "I don't actually think that that is a super-viable reason to hang on to your phone," Renstrom said. "Somebody in the room is always going to have one, a teacher, whatever."

In Massachusetts, the state says more than half of districts have a total ban on phones during school hours, and even more have a partial ban (phones put away during class).

"Studies from countries like Norway, where they have banned phones, have shown a decrease in bullying, especially for girls," Renstrom points out. "So not having the phone and just not even taking the videos, students are actually nicer to each other."

She along with other researchers consistently compare the long-term damage to secondhand smoke.

In fact, some experts think that someday, handing a child under 10 a cellphone is going to look like handing them a cigarette.

Anti-smoking campaigns of the past pointed out what we all know: kids do what they see their parents do, and parents are as addicted to phones as the kids are.

Professor Renstrom says it's time for parents to rethink a blasé approach to tech boundaries. "A parent's job is to protect them from the harmful stuff that they don't yet have the capacity to say no to themselves. You're not going to let a kid drink," Renstrom said. "When they get older they can decide. But that doesn't mean you're going to give a 6-year-old a beer. So it's exactly the same thing."

Psychologist suggests 4 new norms   

Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of "The Anxious Generation," wants parents to embrace Four New "Norms" while raising children:

  • No smartphones before high school
  • No social media before 16
  • Phone-free schools
  • More independence, free play, and responsibility in the real world  

Haidt believes, "Every school needs to go phone free by September. The phones don't just make the kids anxious and lonely, they make them less intelligent."

Whitney Amoako, a BU sophomore says her parents were very strict. "My sister and I, we weren't allowed to have cellphones until 8th grade, and I kind of see why my parents did so now that I'm a college student," Whitney said.

She and her sister Danielle are neuroscience majors and aspiring doctors whose parents enforced a strict protocol. The sisters were also not allowed to use social media until they graduated from high school - and it obviously paid off.

"Social media definitely distracts you more," Danielle says, "like now that I have it, I've noticed I'll scroll on Instagram for hours, but without it you can do so many other things. You can explore the world and the place you're in as well..."

Professor Renstrom agrees and adds one last appeal to parents. "I think the longer you can wait, the better," Renstrom said.

But the time to start thinking about now. 

If you have a question you'd like us to look into, please email   

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