Students Get Better Grades When Phones Are Banned

Technology meant to increase productivity may be too distracting for teens. (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Are smartphones at school making kids dumber?

As a parent, I'm torn by society's love affair with phones. On the one hand, it's awesome to be able to touch base with our kids throughout the day and know that they have a means of contacting us in an emergency. On the other, I know that I somehow managed to survive my childhood — as well as the vast majority of my life to date — without a 24/7 means of communication (and distraction) in my back pocket.

Do kids really need to have phones at school?

To date, schools that have tried to enforce a "no electronics" policy have met with backlash from parents who want their kids to have access to a phone in case of an emergency. But a 2015 study found kids do better in school when mobile devices are banned.

For the study, researchers at the London School of Economics, the University of Texas, and Louisiana State University looked at the impact of cellphones on student performance by evaluating 91 schools in four cities in the U.K. — Birmingham, London, Leicester and Manchester — before and after cellphone bans. By looking at the test scores of teens at each of the schools, researchers were able to determine what — if any — effect cellphone bans had on students' grades.

Across the board, teens' test scores increased by 6 percent after phone bans were implemented. The results were even better for kids who were struggling academically; their scores improved by 14 percent after the ban.

The cellphone ban did not affect the test scores of high-achieving students nor did it change the scores for the 14-year-olds, the youngest teens evaluated. Researchers think this is because high-achieving students have already learned how to focus and avoid distractions, while 14-year-olds may be less likely to own and use phones as often as their 16-year-old peers.

"This means allowing phones into schools would be the most damaging to low-achieving and low-income students, exacerbating any existing learning inequalities," said Dr. Richard Murphy, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Texas.

"Our conclusion is that unstructured use of phones in schools has a negative impact, mainly for kids at the bottom half of the class,” Murphy continued. “Schools should consider having a policy restricting phone use."

What about at college?

Once kids head off to college, they face a different technology landscape — and it's unlikely they'll run into a university-wide policy against using cellphones in class.

A study published in Educational Psychology shows that using electronic devices during class may not affect a student's classroom performance but does affect their exam performance. Students who used a cellphone, laptop or tablet retained less information during a professor's lecture. Therefore, these students earned lower test grades compared to students who didn't use any device during class.

"The intrusion of internet-enabled electronic devices (laptop, tablet, and cell phone) has transformed the modern college lecture into a divided attention task," the study states.

So what's the answer? Ban phones and leave kids {gasp} without a means of communication while they are at school, or allow their grades to suffer because of the unavoidable distraction of technology? Which would you choose?