EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

Norway’s ban on cellphones in middle schools shows positive results. Will Utah do the same?

May 8, 2024, 5:00 AM

Image of a teenager using a cell phone between classes at Cyprus High School in Magna on Friday, Ja...

FILE: Sarah Valle, 17, uses her phone between classes at Cyprus High School in Magna on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. Gov. Spencer Cox wants cellphones to be banned in Utah schools during instruction time. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A few years ago, Norway banned cell phones from 400 middle schools. After three years of the ban, researchers said the girls’ grades were better and their mental health had improved, while both boys and girls experienced less bullying, according to a report by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

The report found a 46% decrease in reported bullying incidents among girls and a 43% decrease among boys. Meanwhile, the number of visits to psychology specialists dropped by 60% among students in the study. Girls also experienced a strong improvement in their grades. 

Limiting cell phones in school is an idea that Utah’s governor has pushed for the state’s public schools. 

“Schools are doing this — lots of schools are already doing this in the state — and what we’ve seen is a tremendous uptick in outcomes, Gov Cox said in 2023. “Kids are performing better on tests. There are fewer disruptions in class, better behaviors, less mental health problems.

“It’s just a win-win all the way around,” said Gov. Cox.

It’s an idea that caught on with Ogden High School, which implemented a cell phone ban on Feb. 5, 2024.

Students at Ogden High can keep their phones in their backpacks, but a three-strike policy is in force if they are caught using phones in classrooms.

“These devices aren’t going away. What we need to do is help these young people understand how to use them responsibly and effectively,” said Jer Bates, spokesman for the Ogden School District.

Pros and cons to banning cell phones in schools

Dr. Leigh Richardson, a brain performance specialist,  described one of the reasons that cell phones, and the information that can be accessed through cell phones, can be considered dangerous. One reason, she told KSL NewsRadio, is that they can create a comparative society.

 

“Anytime you compare, you’ve got a winner and you’ve got a loser.  … when you compare and you don’t feel like your dress is as nice or you don’t feel like you went on as great a vacation, that hurts yourself self-confidence. It hurts your self-esteem. That creates anxieties and depression,” she said.

Parents’ fear of not being able to reach their child is also a factor in phones being readily accessible in classrooms, said Richardson.

“When it’s a single parent and they don’t have a backup system, there is no support. They feel like they have absolutely got to be able to reach child when they need to.”

She added it’s also incumbent on adults to set an example for children on putting cellphones away.

“What I have seen in some families is if you’re going to limit the amount of time that the children use a cellphone that means you have to model that same behavior as parents.”

Related: Ogden High School bans phones in classrooms


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Norway’s ban on cellphones in middle schools shows positive results. Will Utah do the same?