Hochul considers smartphone ban for New York schools, citing student mental health concerns

A woman with short dark hair and wearing a white suit stands near two other people with two wooden benches in the background.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said this week that smartphones should not be available to students during the school day, adding that she is exploring ways to make that happen next year. Here, Hochul speaks with members of the U.S. Congress before President Joe Biden's State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

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Gov. Kathy Hochul is mulling how to get smartphones out of New York schools as city and state officials grapple with the potential harmful effects of social media and other online platforms on youth mental health.

This week, Hochul said smartphones should not be available to students during the school day, adding that she is exploring ways to make that happen next year. The governor and other city and state officials say social media platforms are designed to be addictive, harm young people’s mental health, and create avenues for bullying.

“They’re living in this dark place where there’s this FOMO — fear of missing out — that if they put down their device for one second, that someone might be saying something about them, or they’ve got to respond to something,” Hochul told reporters on Tuesday. “This is how addictive it is. We have to liberate them from this. We have to just draw a line now and say, ‘No. Enough is enough.’”

The governor has added she understands parent concerns over maintaining a line of communication with their children during the school day and indicated the state may consider action that solely affects the use of smartphones.

“I’m okay if you have a flip phone,” she said during a Thursday appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “But you don’t have to be in the world of social media throughout the day. So, let’s talk about that for New York.”

A spokesperson for Hochul confirmed she intends to engage with teachers, families, and others about potential legislative action for the next session, which begins in January 2025. But officials added there was currently no formal legislative proposal.

Julie Scelfo, founder of Mothers Against Media Addiction, said potential legislation by the governor would represent “an important step toward keeping addictive technology out of the classroom and ensuring school hours remain devoted to education and in-person social interaction.”

“Smartphones have no place in the classroom,” she said in an emailed statement. “Educators, social workers and parents understand that the presence of phones during the school day impedes students’ social, emotional and academic growth and further fuels the current youth mental health crisis.”

In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams has repeatedly blamed social media companies for the nation’s ongoing youth mental health crisis. Earlier this year, the city joined hundreds of other municipalities in filing a lawsuit against five leading social media companies.

Though the city’s schools have not adopted a system-wide policy on cellphones, schools Chancellor David Banks said officials are continuing to pay attention to the issue. While some public schools require students to turn in phones at the start of the school day, others employ more relaxed policies.

“These are all complicated issues, and we have not made any decision,” Banks said at a Thursday press briefing. “In light of what the governor just said, I think it’s incumbent upon us to absolutely start exploring these issues.

“The kids are on these phones 24 hours a day, and there’s all kinds of research that’s coming in and talking about all the negative impacts that it is having on them,” he added. “We can’t control what happens once they’re home … but maybe six to eight hours out of the day, we might have a little bit more control.”

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering New York City. Contact him at jshen-berro@chalkbeat.org.

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