A proposed state law would require school districts to restrict cell phone use during school hours.
Assembly member Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, introduced Assembly Bill 272 this year, a measure he hopes will decrease teen anxiety and improve their mental health.
The bill would amend existing school policies by requiring the governing body of a school district, a county office of education or a charter school to adopt a policy to limit or prohibit its pupils’ use of smartphones while they are in school.
The proposed law would affect K-12 students in California.
It would allow students to use a smartphone under specified circumstances – in case of an emergency or threat, if granted permission by a faculty member, or if a physician determines it to be necessary.
Arwen Chenery, chief of staff for Muratsuchi, said the bill could provide a balance of smartphone use for students and improve teens’ mental health.
“Student use of technology, including smartphones, is on the rise,” Chenery said in an emailed statement.
“AB 272 brings awareness to the correlation of smartphone use and student mental health and achievement by requiring school districts to adopt their own policies that strike a balance…preventing (smart phones) from interfering with a student’s educational, social, and emotional development,” Chenery said.
According to a 2015 Pew Research report, 73% of 13-to 17-year-olds had, a smartphone or access to one, and 24 percent said they were online almost constantly.
Growing evidence shows that smartphone use at schools not only interferes with a student’s education, but also increases cyberbullying, depression and suicide rates in students, Chenery said.
In 2018, France adopted a nationwide smartphone ban in all primary and secondary schools to promote pupil achievement and healthy social development.
The London School of Economics and Political Science published a study in May 2015 that found test scores improved at schools that banned smartphone use. Underachieving pupils showed the most improvement.
University of La Verne Professor of Psychology Leticia Arellano said the bill is long over due, and she is pleased to know the issue is being taken up in Sacramento.
“I am happy to see that the issue is being attended to both inside and outside the classroom,” Arellano said. “Even executives from Silicon Valley ban their children from screen time, and that says a lot.”
As a professor, Arellano said she has had her own experiences with the trouble of dealing with technology in the classroom.
She said the misuse of smartphones and the distractions that come with it have occurred during her class sessions.
“We need to be mindful and recognize that it is a problem,” Arellano said.
Arellano said that as a parent, she has not given her 12-year-old daughter a cell phone because she wants her child to interact in person with people.
“We try to emphasize the importance of social and communication skills,” Arellano said. “Improper use of cell phones can diminish that, especially in young children.”
Zion Grant-Freeman, a freshman film and psychology major, said he agrees with the idea of the bill, but the method to prevent the issue is not appropriate.
“I do like the purpose of the bill because it would force people to talk and that’s a problem (for many) nowadays,” Freeman said. “But the bill is flawed because many schools already prohibit phones on their campuses and students still use them during school.”
Freeman shared his experience with his former school’s attempt to ban smartphones during his senior year of high school.
“The school tried to do this my first semester of senior year and it didn’t work,” Freeman said. “Students would still bring their phones to school and use them when they weren’t supposed to. When second semester came, administration stopped trying so hard since it wasn’t working.”
Freeman said mental health related issues in teens deal more with social media than actual smartphone usage.
“Social media contributes more to mental health related issues in teens more than anything because smartphones are an easy access to any social media,” Freeman said. “I don’t have Twitter because it is toxic for my well-being.”
According to a study by Child Mind Institute, heavy users of social media, those being teenagers and young adults, increase depression risk by 27%.
Teens reported that Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram were social media platforms that caused the most feelings of anxiety.
Shannon Stamp, freshman political science major, said she disagrees with the bill and said the issues the bill is trying to take down can easily be presented through other outlets.
“There is more usage to phones than what the bill is trying to stop,” Stamp said. “Plus, the bill won’t ultimately end cyberbullying or issues such as teen depression since it isn’t the only outlet that these issues can come through.”
Stamp said the use of smartphones at school can be replaced by the use of other electronic devices at home. As a result, cyberbullying will not take place in school but can take place at home, she said.
Stamp had an experience in middle school similar to Freeman’s with the ban of smartphones.
“I was in Florida for seventh grade of middle school and I could use my smartphone on campus,” Stamp said.
“In eighth grade, I moved to Connecticut and the schools I attended there didn’t allow for the use of smartphones. This shift made it difficult for me to settle into my new surroundings.”
Stamp said she had a difficult time making new friends at her new school because she had no means of obtaining their contact information or social media during lunch hours or breaks.
When it came to high school, Stamp said the school also attempted to ban smartphone use during her junior and senior year, but that it only resulted in the opposite of what was being aimed for.
“There was an escalated use of smartphones in my high school after they tried to restrict it since it was seen as this ‘rebellious act,’” Stamp said. “Snapchat and other social media was blocked but students would find a loophole around the system.”
Stamp said eventually the school reacted to the unfavorable result and retracted from fighting the issue of cellphone use.
Surprisingly enough, students began to use their phones less since the school wasn’t trying so hard to force restrictions on them, Stamp said.
“I think many people oversee the merits that come with smartphones,” Stamp said. “Not every student uses their phone for irrelevant things.”
Gene Pizzolo, assistant principal at Bonita High School, said that although the limitation of smartphone use in classrooms would enhance a student’s academic performance, AB 272 is not feasible due to the popularity in technology today.
“Cell phones have become part of student culture,” Pizzolo said.
“It’s hard enough to confiscate a phone in a student’s possession. With the bill, we would have to take away a student’s phone just because they have it on them.”
Rather than completely revoke smartphones from students on school sites, Pizzolo said the process of limiting the use of smartphones should be made more gradually.
“At Bonita High School, we do a phone tally, where students place their phone in a container before they sit so they won’t have their phones with them during instruction,” Pizzolo said. “This is just one way of reducing distractions in the classroom.”
Alondra Campos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.