Mobile phone ban won’t address mental health, focus: experts

“Limiting mobile phone use in schools could reduce distractions in class, it will not address many of the underlying issues affecting the mental health of children and young people.”

While banning cellphones in Ontario classrooms will temporarily keep them out of students’ hands, the move will do little to support the mental health of young people across the province, experts at Brock University say.

Assistant Professor Naomi Andrews from the Department of Child and Youth Studies says that while limiting mobile phone use in schools could reduce classroom distractions, it will not address many of the underlying issues affecting mental health of children and young people.

“The focus seems to be on implementing a ban and then enforcement (what are the penalties and consequences for not adhering to the policy) but that’s not on the root causes of the struggles of young people focusing on the classroom, such as mental health issues, peer relationship struggles, or social media addiction,” he says. “Simply banning cell phones will not address all of these challenges, nor will implementing punishments for students who do not adhere.”

Andrews, who directs Brock’s Andrews Relationships Lab and is part of the Brock Research on Aggression and Victimization Experiences (BRAV), also says banning cellphones could miss the mark when it comes to targeting the harms of cyberbullying .

“Bullying in online contexts can be more problematic than in-person bullying for many reasons, including the ability for bullies to remain anonymous and reduced empathy caused by not being able to see the victim’s response ‘goal,’ he says. “However, there is an overlap between cyberbullying and in-person bullying, so bullying will continue in the classroom despite not having access to cell phones, and it will continue after school or on other devices.” .

For Andrews, the key is to “focus on building healthy peer relationships.”

“More attention needs to be paid to the underlying causes of these problems and students should be supported to gain critical competencies: social-emotional learning skills, social media literacy and relationship skills,” she says.

Professor David Hutchison in Brock’s Department of Educational Studies he says parents, teachers and social service providers have an important role to play in supporting young people’s mental health.

But at the center of this conversation should be the young people themselves.

Hutchison says young people should be part of the conversation about the effects of social media and cell phone use on their personal lives.

“Schools should work to create safe spaces for students to discuss how social media and cell phone use intersect with their social identities and feelings of self-worth,” she says.

He believes that schools can serve as common social spaces for middle and high school teachers and students to discuss the reasons for cell phone bans, their goals, and the pros and cons of such a mandate.

“In addition to cell phone use, the stresses of the post-pandemic era also contribute significantly to mental health problems among young people,” says Hutchison. “Banning cell phones in schools is not a cure-all for the mental health problems many young people face.”

For young children in particular, meaningful interaction with real-world physical materials, including nature, is key to healthy developmental growth, she adds.

Naomi Andrews, Brock University assistant professor in the Department of Child and Youth Studies, and David Hutchison, professor in Brock’s Department of Educational Studies, are available for media interviews on the topic.


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