The constant “ding” of student cellphones is a familiar soundtrack in classrooms these days: Teenagers receive a median of 273 notifications a day, with nearly a quarter coming in during school hours, according to a report released Sept. 26 by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that examines the impact of technology on young people.

One in five students—20 percent—receive more than 500 notifications a day, the study found.

Those never-ending notifications are part of the reason why the Anne Arundel County, Md., school district does not allow phones in class unless they are being used for an assignment.

“They’re disruptive unless they’re specifically being used for instructional purpose. They need to be off and away,” said Kimberly Winterbottom, the principal of the district’s Marley Middle School.

She and her staff spend a lot of time talking to students about why phones aren’t allowed in class. One explanation: “Your brains are still growing and literally the interruptions [from a cellphone] could impede that,” Winterbottom said.

Katherine Holden, the principal of Talent Middle School in Oregon, which recently began requiring students to keep their cellphones in their lockers all day, agreed.

“We know from research having these interruptions to our thought process impacts our ability to focus on things for longer periods,” Holden said. Students, she said, are sometimes all too willing to be interrupted “especially if they’re in a kind of a growth moment where maybe learning feels hard, and they’re almost looking for a distraction.”

Nearly all students—97 percent—use their phones at some point during the school day, for a median of 43 minutes, the study found, or about the length of a full class period in many schools. Students pick up their cellphones during the school day a median of 13 times, though some students reach for the phone more than 200 times during the school day, Common Sense reported.

Students are most likely to be looking at social media during school hours, with social networking sites taking up nearly a third of student smartphone use time in school. Also popular: YouTube, which accounts for slightly more than a quarter of the time kids spend on their phones in schools, and gaming, which consumes 17 percent of that time.

Cellphone use also disrupts tweens’ and teens’ sleep. More than half of young people—59 percent—reported using their phones for a median of 20 minutes in the wee hours on school nights, defined as between midnight and 5 a.m. Monday through Friday. About half of those surveyed—47 percent—said they were on social media apps during that time while another 39 percent said they were likely to be on YouTube.

The study was based on a diverse sample of 200 11- to 17-year-olds, all Android phone users, who agreed with along with their caregivers to participate in the study and use monitoring software Common Sense examined the data with help from an advisory council of young people to better illuminate the relationships that teens and tweens develop with their smartphones.

Some experts recommend allowing students to use cellphones in school so that they can begin to learn how to have a healthy relationship with the technology. But middle school students are too young to be able to develop those kinds of habits on their own, Holden said.

“Here at school, they’re learning how to be disciplined so that they can think about how to apply that skill, for example, in a workplace situation where they are hopefully focused on work and not letting their notifications get the best of them,” she said.


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