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The Overuse of Phones Is Eroding Human Connection and Stunting Students’ Learning. Are “Phone Banks” the Answer?

A student reflects on what the practice says about her generation's reliance on technology.

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“Alright, folks, put the phones away,” Dr. Makous said. He made our entire A.P. Physics C. class get up and place our phones in numbered pockets that hung from the back wall, his version of a “phone bank.” Our physics teacher’s goal was quite simple: If he forced us to have our phones out of reach, we would be less distracted. For the rest of the year, we followed the same routine. It was a new concept at our high school. While digital citizenship has been a big focus of the school, and our lower and middle school students do not have access to devices during the day, the “phone bank” was first introduced to me during senior year.

In today’s digitalized world, everyone has access to information instantly — whether that be via Instagram, Snapchat, or Khan Academy. However, many times, students aren’t using this constant access to information and stimulation effectively. In fact, according to a 2018 Pew Research report, 50 percent of teens consider themselves addicted to their mobile devices.

Are phones now another school supply or a distraction? The lines are blurring. 

From personal experience, many of my peers, including myself, would always have our phones on our desks during class. For me, it began to look like another school supply, as my phone always laid next to my pencil case.

It was not until one of my friends lost her phone that I began to think about how we are all unconsciously addicted to our phones. For the two weeks without it, she said she felt a sense of anxiousness and emptiness. “After all, that is how people contact me and how I contact and stay in touch with my friends. I feel like I have been missing something without it.” 

Incessant messaging on study and athletic group chats and calendar updates have become the norm. They are vital during study time and crucial for teammates and coaches to plan and communicate with each other. But, the lines are indeed blurring. Where do teachers, students, and parents draw the line?

Whether it’s a “phone bank” or a complete phone ban, it’s about balance.

Kaitlyn, a freshman at Stanford University, came from an all-girls’ high school in Connecticut and said that she actually liked not being able to have a phone at school. “We were not allowed to be seen with our phones at school — even in the hallways between classes. But, not having my phone all the time really allowed me to focus, learn, and get my work done. There weren’t many distractions that pulled me away from my work, so I was really productive.”

Britney, another Stanford freshman, comes from an art school in Los Angeles. She said that she was never restricted from using her phone in high school. “My friends and I always had our phones with us. While we didn’t use them while in class, our teacher never took them away from us.” She went on to mention that she liked it because it put the responsibility on the student. If they wanted to really focus and learn, they would be willing enough to put their phones away and focus in class. 

After talking with my peers at Stanford, I have received diverse perspectives but have come to one conclusion: Phone usage is all about balance. There is no doubt that a classroom environment without phones will foster a more focused and productive learning space, but students need to become more personally accountable for their learning. 

We have to keep meaningful conversations going and give ourselves a tech break.

We know that the spoken word is less than 20 percent of the communication — 80 percent of it is about tone, eye-contact, emotion, presence, and interaction. The constant presence of our phones is impacting both the quality of our conversations and our human connection.

Phones sometimes make people lonely even in a crowded room. The focus is more about capturing pictures of the moment rather than actually savoring it. Forced breaks from technology are a great way to have quality human interaction, free from the overstimulation of social media and everything that comes with it. 

At the end of the day, the impact of excess time spent on phones goes beyond school, impacting our society’s health and overall well-being. 

Yes, phone banks may help maximize students’ learning, particularly in lower and middle school when controlled usage is ideal. In high school, however, students should be in charge of their own learning. This is the most effective method to encourage them to develop healthy phone habits. After all, we will be doing a disservice to our youth if we let them step into the real world without the tools to discern when their phone is of use, and when it’s a distraction.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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