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Ethics & Religion
Column #1.997
November 20, 2019
Ban Cellphones from School
By Mike McManus

Students at Mountain Middle School in Durango, Colorado can no longer use their cellphones in school. Their use has been banned for seven years. Teachers at the school knew they had to do something because their school had one of the lowest academic rates in Colorado. And the school wanted to be a truly safe place.

Bravo to Shane Voss, who was the new head of the school seven years ago. He was disturbed by the "24-hour cyberbullying that kids were exposed to, the kids' loss of sleep, round-the-clock social pressure to respond to Snapchat, Instagram posts and texts and constant comparing of oneself to other students," reports Jenny Brundin on "Listen Now."

"What we've tried to do at our school is create a safe zone," Voss explains. "The eight hours of a school day when students don't have to worry about that added extra pressure." He calls it a "sanctuary."

"They can just be a kid for eight hours and not have to worry about all the madness of responding and playing digital games with their friends."

When the policy was implemented seven years ago, "Kids came to school at 7:45 and were sitting next to each other but not talking to each other," he recalls. "And now in that 15-minute time as they are waiting for class, students are actually talking to each other."

Parents had to be educated about the impacts of the cell phone on the adolescent brain. Some studies point to a correlation between high social media use and anxiety and depression. The school invited Durango parents to attend a screening of a documentary, "Screenmakers" which explores the impact of screens on kids' brains. A second event featured a showing of "Angst" which documents heightened levels of anxiety in today's youth.

Parents, however, can be part of the problem. Cell phone behavior is learned, Voss said. So community discussions emphasized the importance of not using cell phones while driving or during family dinners or when talking to children.

"Parents need to model appropriate behavior," Voss said. "We're getting our kids ready for the world of work and you're present, you're focused, you're not checked out and you are not on social media when you are in a business meeting."

When Voss walks into a school without a cellphone ban, students are walking around with their heads down on their phones. "It's kind of like the zombie apocalypse and you have all these kids in the hallways not talking to each other. It's a very different vibe."

The school tries to teach the skill of being "indistractible," focusing students on one skill, one concept, or one conversation at a time. It is not easy when many students attempt to do homework, listen to music, text and keep an eye on a Netflix release at the same time."

The impact of the cell phone ban has been dramatic. In the first two years of the seven-year ban, the school struggled academically. But for the past several years it has attained Colorado's highest performance rating!

With this demonstrable success, why doesn't every school create a cell-phone-free environment?

About 95% of teens have access to a smartphone and many Colorado school officials say it is impossible to monitor them. Some administrators fear student and parent pushback. "It's kind of a digital umbilical cord for parents and students," he said.

Voss argues, "Let's remove all the excuses because we know this is what is best for kids. We're going to have fewer kids facing depression and anxiety. The mental health piece of this is huge and that can't be ignored."

I interviewed Voss this week when he added, "We have far more demand than seats. The waiting list for the past two years has been 650 students, but we can take only 240 students.

"We are looking for a future expansion. We've had a lot of visitors from other schools. "

However, he could not cite one other school which has outlawed cell phones for middle school students - or any high schools that have done so.

Therefore, he is considering "starting another school in Durango," where he is located.

His pioneering work has sparked articles by the state board of education and stories in
the Denver Post and other papers.

Voss calls his ban on cell phones as a "no brainer" because it is "definitely a safe place for students, which protects them from cyberbulling."

Therefore, I propose that middle schools across America ban cell phones - and high schools as well.

__________________________

Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.com. Hit Search for any topic.

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