‘Alarming Mental Health Crisis’: Virginia GOP Governor Calls For Phone-Free Schools In Executive Order

The plan aims to reduce kids' time on phones without parental supervision.
FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA - MAY 18: Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) arrives at George Mason University May 18, 2023 in Fairfax, Virginia. Youngkin delivered the commencement address for the university's 2023 graduating class. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Virginia’s Republican governor called for “phone-free” schools in an executive order on Tuesday, citing the mental health and learning crisis among school-age children.

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s order directs the education department to issue guidance on establishing “cell phone-free education policies and procedures” for public schools.

The order cites the “alarming mental health crisis” among teenagers that is “driven in part by extensive social media usage and widespread cell phone possession among children.”

Teens’ risk of mental health issues like depression and anxiety doubles if they spend more than three hours a day on social media, according to one study, and the average teen spends nearly five hours scrolling, according to Gallup.

The public school plan also aims to “significantly reduce the amount of time students can be on phones without parental supervision.”

“This essential action will promote a healthier and more focused educational environment where every child is free to learn. Creating cellphone and social media-free educational environments in Virginia’s K-12 education system will benefit students, parents, and educators,” Youngkin said in a statement.

Virginia Education Secretary Aimee Guidera said that while government is not the only solution, limiting screen time at school is a must.

“The data is clear, and it is time for Virginians to come together to address the damage of social media and screens to healthy childhoods,” Guidera said. “Government cannot be the sole solution to this crisis; school communities – especially parents and teachers – must work together to discuss and develop common sense approaches to limit screen time, prioritize open channels of communication, and re-establish norms that reinforce healthy and vibrant learning communities.”

Youngkin’s order also cited the decline in academic achievement across the country since the pandemic, saying that limiting cell phones in classrooms would help students focus on academics.

K-12 students suffered severe learning loss during the pandemic. Many returned to classrooms reading at the same level as when the pandemic began, putting them two grade levels behind.

In 2022, eighth graders had the lowest U.S. history scores on record and among the lowest civics scores, according to the Department of Education. Math scores plummeted among fourth and eighth graders in almost every state, and reading scores have also sunk across the country, erasing the last three decades of progress.

Last week, Arkansas Republican Governor Sarah Sanders rolled out a similar push for phone-free schools.

Arkansas’ new grant program incentivizes public schools to ban phones by rewarding them with additional funding for mental health and other services. The program will also cover the cost of putting a cell phone ban into place, providing schools with secure pouches for students to store their phones during the school day.

Sanders remarked that the average teen spending  five hours on social media means “five hours a day not with friends, not outside, and not learning.”

“The facts are grim, but there are things we can do to help,” Sanders said. “Big Tech created an addicting product and marketed it to the most impressionable population out there, our kids.”

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