Why Smartphones Just Got Banned From Schools Across France

Photo: Marta Locklear

France just took a bold step to limit technology use in schools across the nation. Starting this school year, all students up to age 15 are prohibited from using smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches on school grounds by law.

The ban is intended to eliminate distractions during class, encourage more social interaction among students, and combat the prevalence of cyberbullying, according to France's education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. The law specifically applies to the French equivalent of preschool up through the ninth grade, and high schools have the option of instituting a similar rule as well. Schools will be able to determine for themselves how they'll enforce it, but officials will be empowered to confiscate any devices they catch students using on campus.

There's a little room for exceptions, of course: Teachers can allow certain technology use for class if desired, and any kid with an emergency can request to use their phone with permission from a school official. The ban also provides exceptions for students with disabilities.

"We're not seeking to reject technological progress—that would be absurd—but rather to master it, to make sure man is the master of the machine," Blanquer said. "It all begins with education."

This sweeping new measure comes at a time when a growing chorus of parents, educators, and psychologists are expressing concern about technological addiction among young people. In the United States, almost 79 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 had a smartphone last year, the Wall Street Journal reports. That's up from 62 percent three years ago, showing a rapid increase in usage. In France, 86 percent of teens that age had a smartphone last year, up from 59 percent in 2014. One 2016 study found half of American teenagers feel addicted to their devices, 72 percent felt compelled to respond to messages and notifications immediately, and 78 percent checked their screens every hour.

Research has shown extensive social media use increases stress and makes us feel lonelier, and one recent study found banning devices in schools improves academic performance. That said, some anecdotal evidence suggests not all smartphone prohibitions work as intended: New York City had a similar rule in place for almost a decade before rescinding it in 2015 after it became clear the ban was disproportionately hurting low-income students and families.

As policymakers work on creating effective rules around technology use, parents can work on helping their kids develop a mindful relationship to their devices at home. Limiting screen time, creating tech-free zones in the house, or building tech-free time windows into the day are all part of that process but so is introducing quality bonding activities and real awe of natural wonders to your child. Importantly, don't stress yourself out by trying to make your kids quit cold turkey: Take small steps, see what works and what doesn't, and slowly develop a unique routine that works for your family over time.

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