Schools Invest in Cell Phone Lock Bags to Curb Student Usage
A study found 50% of kids ages 11 to 17 receive at least 237 cell phone notifications — 25% of which are received during the school day.
Districts nationwide are increasingly investing in a product that secures students’ cell phones during the school day.
Over the last eight years, school districts in 41 states have spent $2.5 million to buy magnetically sealed fabric pouches from Yondr, a California startup, NBC News reports. The majority of the spending has occurred since May 2022, according to Govspend.
Concerns over student cell phone usage have increased over the years as research continues to show the negative impact phones and social media have on children’s mental health and overall ability to focus in school. A May 2023 advisory from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said social media may cause body image issues, affect eating behaviors and sleep quality, and lead to social comparison and low self-esteem.
Dozens of school districts are also suing the parent companies of Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube, alleging their apps cause classroom disciplinary problems and mental health issues and divert resources from education.
According to a 2023 report from Pew Research Center, around 46% of teens say they are online “almost constantly,” which is double its 2014 survey findings. Another 2023 report from Common Sense Media found half of kids ages 11 to 17 receive at least 237 notifications on their phones on a typical day — 25% of which are received during the school day.
California’s San Mateo-Foster City School District purchased the pouches in the spring of 2022.
“Teenagers were taking videos of each other on their phones. These were videos of kids in locker rooms. These were videos of kids bullying each other,” Superintendent Diego Ochoa told NBC News. “The phones represent this Wild, Wild West.”
Before implementing the pouches at the district’s four middle schools, leaders held meetings with parents to reduce concerns about being unable to contact their children during the school day. Parents and guardians now call the school office if they need to reach their child.
Ochoa said the pouches have been “an unquestioned success” and that students are paying more attention in class and talking to each other more outside of class.
Francine Avila, principal of East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy, told NBC News that what drew her to the product was that students get to keep the lock pouches with them instead of surrendering their phones to a central storage area — a process some schools throughout the country have adopted.
“Still having the phone on them helps to lower the anxiety,” she said, noting the pouches offer a way to allow school culture to catch up to technological change. “It’s a part of their body almost, and if you take it from them, you take the social-emotional component that goes with it.”
A few weeks after implementing the pouches, Avila said students were increasingly getting to class on time and participating more. School staff also started offering activities and sports during lunch to keep students engaged.
Anthony Vaccaro, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Southern California, said although the pouches may be effective, schools should still look for other causes of distraction and bullying.
“Just because we removed the phone from the environment doesn’t mean these issues are going to go away,” he said, adding it’s important for kids to learn how to self-regulate their phone use before they become adults.
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