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Park City School District meets with parents concerned about cellphone use in schools

young teenager at home looking at mobile phone
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young teenager at home looking at mobile phone

The Park City School District and community members are discussing cellphone use in schools. Here's how they are working together to address students’ mental health.

A group of Park City parents and Park City School District administrators gathered last week to discuss how cellphones affect youth mental health.

Parents Maren Mullin, Katie Wright and Holland Lincoln set out to organize a gathering to discuss "The Anxious Generation” by Jonathan Haidt. In the book, Haidt argues too much screen time and too little autonomy have combined to cause a mental health crisis in America’s teenagers.

What they uncovered, however, was a big demand for a broader community conversation about parent concerns. The trio worked with the Park City School District to host a panel discussion with Treasure Mountain Junior High Principal Caleb Fine and Summit County Health’s Pamella Bello. Mullin said over 90 parents attended, many who want to delay their kids’ cell phone use.

“We're hoping to have an open dialogue to see how we can, you know, all come together and play a part in rolling back a phone-based childhood so that we can help our kids thrive,” she said.

Fine said having cellphones in schools is a complex issue; school districts don’t buy them, but they’re everywhere in schools.

“Managing that becomes a teacher issue and a teacher reality. And that can be very frustrating,” he said. “Because kids are kids and they are likely to be impulsive at times. And if mom or dad texts a kid, during class, which does happen, it's highly probable that student is going to want to look at the phone.”

Most students have a cellphone by the time they get to Treasure Mountain, and Fine said it comes with pros and cons.

Among the positives: phones help some students with reading challenges by magnifying fonts, and they can help with monitoring student health needs. Further, a lot of parents like being able to get in touch with their child without having to go through the front office.

However, Fine said while cellphones aren’t allowed in the classroom, they can still be a learning distraction. He said even adults can relate to hearing their phone buzz and needing to drop everything to look at it. Fine said social media is also designed to be addictive, and while Treasure Mountain students are collectively flourishing, phones can still negatively affect students’ mental health.

“We, like every school in the nation, are dealing with students that are dealing with anxiety, we have students that are dealing with depression,” he said.

The Park City School District recently emailed a survey to secondary school parents and staff to gauge how parents and staff feel about cellphone phone use in schools. Fine said the district has received over 900 responses and plans to use the information to guide future policies on cell phone use.

Another panel discussing cellphone use in schools will be held June 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Ecker Hill Middle School.