Minnesota Middle School Restricted Cell Phones a Year Ago, the Results Are ‘Just Night and Day’
When I was in middle school, I had a flip phone meant exclusively to contact family members (and maybe a couple close friends). Half the time I didn’t even want to text on it because it was one of those keyboards where you have to press the button two or three times to get the letter you want. I hardly used my phone at all, which I believe attributed to why I enjoyed middle school so much.
Unlike an overwhelming number of kids and teenagers today, I was not glued to my screen. Rather, my time in middle school was rooted in practically anything but the cyber-verse. My friends and I spent every moment before and after school, or in between classes, engaging in quality interactions. We talked during lunch, and it wasn’t about what was trending online. Of course, the older I got, as I went through high school and college, social media grew in prominence. So, really, my time in middle school was the only season I had relatively free of technological domination.
The research and studies conducted on social media use are numerous, and it’s remarkable how the majority of them report negative impacts. The conclusions seem to read the same: “Depression, anxiety, bullying, and anti-social tendencies are on the rise, and it’s all linked to social media usage.” Between October of 2019 and October of 2020, social platforms grew 21.3%, with 93.33% of 4.48 billion (as of 2021) worldwide active on social media.
Although statistics show adults between 27 to 42 are the biggest social media users, I would argue the most unfortunate victims of the social media addiction are the younger generations. Which makes a school such as Maple Grove Middle School in Minnesota a breath of fresh air in a world tainted by online toxins.
About a year ago, Maple Grove chose to restrict cell phone use in the school. While it wasn’t an outright ban, they encouraged students to place their phones in their lockers at the start of the day, and anyone who did not comply and used their phone would get it confiscated until the school day finished. According to the principal, Patrick Smith, there were a variety of contributions to this decision. “[T]here’s a lot of drama that comes from social media, and a lot of conflict that comes from it,” he said.
When Smith and the school staff noticed the kids were hardly interacting with each other throughout the day, they knew a change had to be made.
After a year of restricted screen time, the “kids are happy,” Smith shared. “They’re engaging with each other. … [I]t’s just night and day.” When the plan was first announced, parents applauded, the principal noted. And they continue to give positive feedback, including parents who have shared that their kids are paying more attention and participating in more discussions. One parent said her son is “thriving.”
Meg Kilgannon, Family Research Council’s senior fellow for Education Studies, explained to The Washington Stand her take on the school’s hopeful results. She deemed it as “a great first step in helping teens regulate their use of technology in an unrestricted culture.” But unfortunately, the downsides of social media go beyond depression and anxiety.
New research revealed that 73% of teenagers surveyed have been exposed to pornography, with some as young as 11 when the explicit material was viewed. Experts say social media plays a key role in this as well as the identity crisis sweeping the nation. “We know that the porn industry is relentlessly targeting youth,” Kilgannon added. Additionally, “The work of adolescence is to form one’s identity by discerning God’s call on your life.” So, for Kilgannon, social media being both a source of sexual content and identity confusion means “limiting [its] access to children during the school day is a bare minimum kind of advance that we should all be able to support.”
When it comes to fostering the development of a child, Kilgannon shared, “This work needs to be done in the safety of a loving family and supported by institutions we build as a culture — churches and schools. These are places where we encounter each other and build relationships.” She continued, “This encounter is interrupted by overuse of personal devices like cell phones.”
Going back to my middle school days, I am so thankful for a community that was not overrun by our pocket devices. The friendships felt so genuine, and the days richer. My experience causes me to believe the kids at Maple Grove will be seriously helped by the school’s actions. As Kilgannon concluded, “What a gift to this community for the school to allow their students and faculty the space for genuine human connection. I hope this school is developing a ‘best practice’ guideline to share with others — we need this to ‘go viral!’”
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.