Key Research

Cell Phone Use Policies in US Middle and High Schools

Key Takeaways:

  • Cell phone use among middle and high school students is ubiquitous, starts at younger ages, and is negatively associated with children’s academic and social-emotional outcomes
  • Although most US middle and high schools have cell phone policies in place, a notable percentage of them allow students to use their phones during class, lunch, and recess
  • Whether cell phone use is occurring during class or recess, it is contributing to children’s cumulative 24-hour screen exposure. Given that most children spend the majority of their waking hours in schools, limiting phone access during the entire school day may be associated with significantly decreased exposure.
  •  Schools have a unique opportunity to create predictable screen-free time for students. Similarly to helping children meet guidelines for optimal physical activity and nutrition, schools should support recommendations on screen time and media use.


LiveMore ScreenLess’ Summary

As evidence mounts that both academic performance and social-emotional development are negatively impacted by adolescent cell phone use, concern for student wellbeing is reaching a tipping point among educators and parents alike. 

In 2020, JAMA Network reported on a survey that was administered to a nationally representative sample of 210 middle and high schools. While 97% of responding middle schools reported having a cell phone policy for students, phone use was unrestricted during lunch and recess—times during which socialization between students has traditionally taken place—at 71 middle schools (33%) and 10 high schools (69%).

More than 90% of responding principals supported restricting cell phone use at both middle and high school levels, and over 80% believe cell phone use during school negatively affects both social development and academic performance. Furthermore, despite the common perception that parents are resistant to in-school cell phone restrictions, 91% of responding middle schools indicated that parents would support a policy limiting cell phone use during the school day. This suggests that educators could benefit from the support of parents and caretakers in limiting cell phone use during school hours.

Guidelines for physical activity and nutrition are already commonplace in school curriculum. Given the opportunity to create predictable screen-free spaces for young people, public schools are uniquely positioned to support recommendations for daily screen time and media use. The social-emotional consequences of time spent using screens during lunch and recess are not well understood, and further attention to this issue may be critical to nurturing a school culture that prioritizes learning and socialization.

Pooja S. Tandon, et al., Cell Phone Use Policies in US Middle and High Schools. JAMA Network Open, 2020;3(5):e205183.

Topics: Attention , Device Use Policy

Year: 2020

Hosting University: Listing from National Center for Education Statistics

Participants: Nationally representative sample of 210 middle and high schools; Over half of students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch

Data Collection: Cross-sectional survey distributed to all U.S. public schools 6th–12th grade