Banning Cell Phones in Schools

Balancing Parental Anxiety Versus the Greater Well-Being of Children

Ian Mitroff
3 min readDec 4, 2023

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

A recent article in The New York Times described a Law that was recently passed in Florida banning the use of cell phones by students in Middle and High Schools[i]. The reasoning was that they were so intrusive such that they interfered significantly with Class-room Instruction. As the article pointed out, although there was concern about reaching their children, Parents generally supported the ban, and even some students supported it as well.

Writing in The San Francisco Chronicle, Julie Scelfo, Executive Director of Get Media Savvy, takes an opposite point of view[ii]:

“Despite the abundance of evidence that phone addiction havoc on every aspect of our children’s lives — and news that attorney generals from 41 states and the District of Columbia are suing Meta for its contribution to this crisis — many parents are still opposed to outright cell phone bans in schools.”

Ms. Scelfo points out that if there were an active shooting in a School, using a cell phone would distract Children from focusing on the primary task that requires their full attention, being alert to what’s going on around them. As counter intuitive as it may be, the use of cell phones could actually endanger them more by calling attention to where they are.

As a result, Ms. Scelfo couldn’t be stronger in her opposition to phones:

“Wanting our children to have phones in Schools is really about placating our own anxiety as parents. We’re so scared out of our minds of a potential school shooting that we’re trading our children’s mental health, social, emotional and intellectual well-being for our ability to ‘reach’ them in case of a hypothetical event,”

Not that everyone would necessarily agree with her that because school shooting are “extraordinarily rare, Kids are more likely to be hit by lightning.” Yes, School Shootings are rare, but because of their inordinate damage and harm, they are frightening beyond belief. Thus, even though I largely agree with Ms. Scelfo on the need to ban phones in Schools, I can still understand, and empathize with, why Parents want their Kids to have them wherever they are.

In the end, it’s a matter of overcoming one’s anxieties in the service of the greater needs and well-being of Kids, the most precious gift of all by which Parents are blessed.

And as I’ve written about many times, one can rarely do this on one’s own. While Parent Support Groups are invaluable, they are no substitute for proper Therapy.

[i] [i] Natasha Singer, “A Florida District Bans Phones, Students Agonize but Perk Up, “ The New York Times, Wednesday, November 1, 2023, PP A1 and A11.

[ii] Julie Scelfo, “Students better off without phones,” The San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, November 3, 2023, P A12.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

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