Schools across U.S. join growing no-phone movement to boost focus, mental health

In an effort to remove distractions and enhance educational experiences, schools across the United States are increasingly adopting a no-phone policy, requiring students to lock away their devices for the entire school day. Newburgh Free Academy in New York stands as a testament to the growing trend. Students at the public high school begin their day by putting their phones in pouches, which remain locked for seven hours, including at lunchtime. The pouches are made by a company specializing in creating phone-free spaces called Yondr, and cost between $25 and $30 per student. With over 2,000 schools participating, the company reported a 150% increase in schools using them in 2023. At the Newburgh school, the policy came as a bit of a shock for some students when it was introduced four years ago. “I was ready to start a petition, bring it to the principal, like, stop it real fast,” said Tyson Hill, a senior. But no one signed his petition, and now he loves attending a phone-free school. “I mean, coming from a school where it was banned but it wasn’t implemented, I was still using my phone. I was on my phone,” he said. Teachers have noticed changes at the school — where students walk with their heads up in the hall and socialize and laugh in the lunch room. “It’s a game-changer; it’s night and day. I saw kids’ faces again,” said Dennis Maher, an English teacher. No-phone policies come amid rising concerns about kids’ mental health and technology. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in the 10 years before the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts surged by approximately 40%. And test scores, particularly in math for grades 4 and 8, saw the biggest decline on record. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and author, believes technology, including phones, is the root of the problem. “This was all starting in the early 2010s. And the only explanation anyone can offer for why this happened all over the world is the phones,” said Haidt, who wrote “The Coddling of the American Mind” and started researching Gen Z in 2015 when cases of anxiety and depression started to rise. He said that most kids in 2010 just had flip phones phones for texting — a tool to help them connect in person. But after 2010, more and more kids got smartphones, inundating them with social media updates, group chats and messages. “Smartphones are basically kryptonite for learning,” he said. “When children have a phone in their pocket, and most schools say you have to keep your phone in your pocket, you can’t use it during class, is like saying in a drug detox clinic, ‘You can keep your heroin in your pocket, just don’t shoot up.'” “If kids have access to a phone, they will text, they will check their social media, they will not pay attention the teacher or to each other in person,” he said. Ebony Clark, assistant principal at Newburgh Free Academy, said phones can also be a safety issue in dangerous situations. “If there’s an emergency, an active shooter, that phone going off makes them a target,” said Clark.