Get Phones Out of Schools Now.

Jonathan Haidt

By Jonathan Haidt

In May 2019, I was invited to give a lecture at my old high school in Scarsdale, New York. Before the talk, I met with the principal and his top administrators. I heard that the school, like most high schools in America, was struggling with a large and recent increase in mental illness among its students. The primary diagnoses were depression and anxiety disorders, including increasing rates of self-harm; girls were particularly vulnerable. I was told that the mental- health problems were already baked in when students arrived for ninth grade. Coming out of middle school, many students were already anxious and depressed. Many were also already addicted to their phones.

Ten months later, I was invited to give a talk at Scarsdale Middle School. There, too, I met with the principal and her top administrators, and I heard the same thing: Mental- health problems had recently gotten much worse. Even when students arrived for sixth grade, coming out of elementary school, many of them were already anxious and depressed. And many, already, were addicted to their phones. 

To the teachers and administrators I spoke with, this wasn’t merely a coincidence. They saw clear links between rising phone addiction and declining mental health, to say nothing of declining academic performance. A common theme in my conversations with them was: We all hate the phones. Keeping students off of them during class was a constant struggle. Getting students’ attention was harder because they seemed permanently distracted and congenitally distractible. Drama, conflict, bullying, and scandal played out continually during the school day on platforms to which the staff had no access. I asked why they couldn’t just ban phones during school hours. They said too many parents would be upset if they could not reach their children during the school day.

Read the full The Atlantic article.
Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership.