Our Schools, Students Being Failed By Cellular Parents

Published 11:01 am Friday, June 21, 2024

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More often than not, teenager struggles in school can be traced to a single instrument–the ever-present cell phone.

In the beginning, cell phones in the hands of teenagers was mostly about their safety and communication with parents. But that was then. Today, when the teen suicide rate is climbing and youth mental health is declining, parents–no matter how well intentioned–should not be giving their kids a cell phone for school. In some cases it’s like giving them the keys to the car and a cold six pack.

 So when the U.S. Surgeon General announced this week that a government warning label needs to be applied to social media to protect young people, my first thought was: Good idea, but that ship has sailed.

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It has long been said that you cannot legislate good behavior and good judgment. That is true because those traits are missing today with a lot of adults.

The mental health of teenagers has never been as seriously jeopardized as it is these days. When parents and teachers are neglectful or naive, social media slithers into the room like a snake hiding under the front porch.

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, our surgeon general, wrote this in a newspaper opinion piece this week: “Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and the average daily use in this age group, as of the summer of 2023, was 4.8 hours. Additionally, nearly half of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.” Read that: bullying, body shaming, taunting, pressure.

The surgeon general is to be commended for not only taking this position but also being willing to take it to Congress, without whose approval nothing happens. We all know that there will be a circus of political performers searching for sound bite opportunities.

Los Angeles, the second largest school district in America, set in motion this week the development of plans to ban cell phones in school beginning in January. Nick Melvoin, a school board member who spearheaded the change, said cell phones have taken control of students. “They’re not talking to each other at lunch or playing at recess because they have their AirPods in,” he said. (AirPods enable only the user to hear what their cell phone is producing.)

While those who seek to politicize public education tend to focus mostly on what is available in schools for students to read, they ignore the real corrupter–the cell phone, a chameleon pretending to be an aid but in reality a weapon of emotional and educational destruction.

If I could be in control of our schools, I would take two steps that would instantly make me the most hated man on the planet: 1. Ban cell phones on school grounds 2. Require students to wear uniforms.

I’m not in charge of the schools or much of anything else, but Aaron Greene, superintendent of Polk County Public Schools, is. He’s on the front lines every day wrestling with the challenges.

 “Like many school districts across the country we are having discussions about cell phones and the negative impact social media has on our students and classrooms,” Greene said.  “We believe now is an important time to talk about policies and rules around cell phone use during school hours, especially during instructional time.  I want people to know we are concerned about the addictive nature of social media because our educators see and deal with its effects on our students’ productivity and mental health daily.  The appropriate and healthy use of technology and social media must be discussed and addressed intentionally If we are to prepare young people for future employment, relationships, and citizenship.”

Here’s hoping all school leaders embrace this type of thinking. Consider it a lifeline, not a boat anchor.


Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com