Milton High School (MHS) enacted a new procedure this school year prohibiting cell phone use in classrooms in an effort to curb the negative impacts of screen addiction. Some students are thankful for the relief from social media, but so far, reinforcement of the rule has proved rocky.
On Aug. 27, MHS administration sent a letter to families detailing the new rule and the reasons behind it. “Cell phones have become a way of life, a technological convenience that has impacted all of our lives in one way or another. However, in the school environment, cell phones can be a distraction, interruption, and a method of inappropriate use,” the letter stated.
Co-Principal Mary Jane Stinson echoed this sentiment, noting how recent research about the effects of cell phone use on young folks shocked her. She pointed to a link to a video in the letter, “There’s a Cell Phone in Your Student’s Head,” which details a 2017 study comparing students’ academic performance when their cell phone was in the vicinity, versus separated from them. According to the video, “students performed worse when their phone was nearby on the desk, and no, it didn’t matter if it was face down.” Physical separation from cellphones produced the best outcome.
“What I appreciate is, at the beginning of class, I’m looking in and seeing a little bit more of students talking to each other,” said Stinson’s co-principal, Anne Blake. “Before, I would look into a classroom, and see 20 kids doing this—” Blake dropped her head in her lap, miming being absorbed in her phone, “—and not talking to each other.”
Olivia Couillard, a senior at MHS and reporter on the school newspaper said that most students she’s talked to about the new policy understand the reasoning behind it, but see reinforcement as loose.
“We knew it was coming, we understand the purpose of it and we understand why we need it. There is a problem in the world in general with cell phone addiction. And at [MHS] it was clear we had a problem with it,” she said. “It comes down to who’s reinforcing it and who’s not. When I was interviewing kids... that’s what was brought up the most.”
For her part, Couillard is thankful for the policy. She wishes she grew up in a time devoid of social media. “It’s a popularity contest, in a way,” said Couillard. “I wake up to it every morning. What happened while I was asleep? Nothing happened, but that’s not the point.”
Stinson thinks that, like Couillard, many of the students are secretly relieved to not have the pressures of social media clouding their school day. Since the rule went into effect, Stinson has seen a decrease in traffic flow on the school social media pages during the day, with traffic deviating to morning and night. “It’s nice that they’re not incessantly checking it,” she said.
Junior Kaleb Wright also writes for the school newspaper but he feels differently about cell phone use. “I like to fidget with things. I was one of those people who had to have their phone in their pocket and I would actually play with the ringer switch,” he said.
Wright didn’t feel distracted by the siren call of social media in the same way that Couillard, but still acknowledged his dependence on the device. “I needed that tactile feeling so now I keep a pen in my pocket. That’s a little bit different, not having that clutch. But it’s better in the end,” he said.
As far as reinforcement for the policy goes, co-principals Blake and Stinson see it as a learning process for teachers and the administration—not just students. “At the end of the day I don’t want to be constantly confiscating students’ phones,” said Blake. “That becomes really hard if we can’t work together.”
They noted that reinforcement can be difficult when technology is so embedded in education. For example, students at MHS are issued a school iPad each year for their academic work, often using them during class.
“We didn’t want to go to war with students but we wanted to expect reasonable use,” said Blake.
Couillard and Wright said that while some teachers are loose in reinforcement, and many students still have a hard time letting go of their phones, they’ve also noticed classroom atmospheres become less stressful.
Blake hopes that as more information about how cell phones and screens affect adolescents, MHS can continue to be part of the solution. “We don’t want harm to come to kids to their brains,” she said. “Brains are a big deal, that’s why we have concussion protocol. We used to not have concussion protocols, but we learned more about what happens, and as we learn more about screen addiction, we want to be responsive.”