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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Present and paying attention: Smartphone detox is worth it

Smartphone detox is difficult, but worth it, writes Seth Lavin, principal of a Chicago middle school. After his school equipped classrooms with locked "cellphone prisons," a teacher said, "It's like we have the children back."


He decided to break his own smartphone habit so he could be there -- really there -- for his sons.


"Ninety-five percent of young adults now keep their phones nearby every waking hour, according to a Gallup survey; 92% do when they sleep," writes Lavin. He was averaging six hours of screen time a day.


He bought a flip phone. It can make calls and text, but that's about it. He doesn't have Facetime or Instagram, Lavin writes. "I can’t use Grubhub or Lyft or the Starbucks Mobile App. I don’t even have a browser . . . I drove to a student’s quinceañera, and I had to print out directions as if it were 2002."


Lavin sees signs of resistance to screen addiction, but he isn't trying to change the culture, he writes. "I’m doing this because I don’t want my sons to remember me lost in my phone."


School phone bans improve students' learning and health, writes Daniel Buck. They can pay attention in class, connect to friends -- face to face -- during breaks. To do it right, schools must set school-wide policies backed by consistent enforcement.

(At schools with lenient cellphone policies), the lunchroom was an eerie sight to behold: students sitting shoulder to shoulder with their necks craned down, their faces faintly lit, occasionally leaning over to show their friend a funny meme or TikTok video but never glancing up. There was little eye contact.
At the “phone ban schools,” however, the lunchroom had a healthy, boisterous energy. Students said “good morning” as they walked down the hallway. They looked and smiled at each other and their teachers.

Finally, schools need to persuade students and their parents that banning smartphones is worth the inconvenience, Buck writes. "The inability to easily contact their children or the need to drive to school to pick up their child’s confiscated phone may disgruntle parents." His analogy is the national campaign to persuade people that smoking cigarettes is harmful. Just as people were persuaded that smoking cigarettes is harmful, they need to be persuaded that carrying smartphones makes kids less smart and less social.


For those wanting a digital detox, here's a buyer's guide to the best "dumb" phones of 2024.

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