Survey Of U.S. High School Students On Classroom Cellphone Use

A Survey Of US High School Students Regarding Their Recommendations for Classroom Cellphone Policies in Elementary, Middle, And High Schools 

Authors: Delaney Ruston, MD, Lisa Tabb, Matthew Rudd, PhD

Key findings: 

  • 71% of high schoolers recommend that middle schoolers not have access to cellphones during class time. 
  • 92% of high schoolers recommend that elementary students not have access to cellphones during class time.
  • 38% of high schoolers recommend that high schoolers themselves not have access to cellphones during class time.


Cellphone ownership is pervasive not only among middle and high school students but also among elementary school students (ref. 1).

A substantial body of research underscores the negative consequences on student learning and emotional well-being when students have access to cellphones during school, including class hours (ref. 2-13).

The policies governing cellphone usage in US schools exhibit significant variation. According to a 2017 study, over half of middle schools permitted students to carry phones with them throughout the day, with public schools being twice as likely to allow this compared to private schools (ref.14).

Although many schools claim to prohibit phone use on their premises, the actual implementation and enforcement of these policies often differ from what is stated (ref. 15).

Parents, educators, and principals express concerns regarding the impact of cellphone use on children's well-being, particularly within the school environment (ref. 14, 16, 17). Despite these concerns, few studies have asked high school students for their opinions on cellphone access policies for their own grades and younger grades. This study aims to address this gap by seeking input from high school students on this matter.


For this study, we at Screenagers emailed an anonymous to parents through our films’ weekly newsletter. We asked them to pass it on to their children in grades 1 through 12. By emailing parents first, we ensured that they gave consent for their children to participate.

The survey included questions about the respondents' recommendations for cellphone policies in classrooms. The questions included options to let students keep phones on them, put them in a locker/backpack, or put them in a cloth bag, like a shoe holder.  (See Appendix).

The survey was conducted from late August 2023 to early September 2023.


A total of 286 high school-age youth responded. Youth in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade gave responses. (See Table 1).

The key findings were the following:

  • 71% of high school students recommend that middle school students not have access to cellphones in class.
  • 92% of high school students recommend that elementary-age students not have access to cellphones in class. 
  • 38% of high school students recommend that their own schools should not have access to cellphones in class.

Of the high schoolers who suggest middle school students shouldn't access their phones (71%), 31% prefer storing phones in cloth pouches (i.e., shoe holders) on the wall, while 69% prefer keeping them in backpacks or lockers.


Of the various findings of this study, one in particular stands out: high school students are more than twice as likely to advise against middle school students having access to their cellphones in class. This constitutes a substantial majority. 

Given that high school students have direct experience with the presence of cellphones in middle school classrooms, their input holds significant value. Their insights are particularly vital in light of the diverse cellphone policies that exist in middle schools. These high school students, having recently undergone this experience, offer a unique perspective that merits careful consideration.

Interestingly, upon closer examination of responses from younger high schoolers (9th and 10th graders) regarding middle school policies versus their older counterparts (11th and 12th graders), no significant difference emerged in their recommendations concerning phone access. While one might have anticipated that younger students would be more inclined to endorse cellphone access, given the typically intricate social dynamics of these early high school years, the data suggests that students place greater importance on acknowledging the associated drawbacks. 

An additional finding of this research is that more than 90% of high school students contend that elementary students should not have access to a phone during class. Although many elementary schools already implement restrictions on phone use during class time, with the majority having "away for the day" policies that prohibit phone usage throughout the entire day, certain factors can hinder the complete maintenance and enforcement of these policies.

For instance, the increasing prevalence of younger students owning phones and devices like Apple Watches necessitates additional measures to ensure that these devices are genuinely kept away throughout the day. This underscores the challenges schools face in maintaining "away for the day" policies.

In this study, high school students were able to elaborate on why they chose the answers they did. Of note, many of them used the space to express their concern about cellphone ownership in general by elementary-age children, articulating sentiments akin to the following examples:

  • "Elementary schoolers shouldn't have phones at all."
  • "Elementary kids don't need phones."

Lastly, our study revealed that approximately 40% of high school students suggest that high schools should prohibit students from accessing their phones during class time. We advocate for further research wherein high school classes currently permitting phone access undergo a temporary transition to restrict cellphone usage for a specified duration, such as two weeks. Subsequently, an analysis of students' preferences under both conditions should be conducted. Notably, the authors of this study have received feedback from numerous high schoolers attending schools where cellphone access during class is not allowed. These students have expressed favorable opinions regarding this policy, underscoring the importance of such research.

One limitation of this survey lies in its reliance on a convenience sample. The respondents are the children of parents already invested in the effects of screen time on children, given they subscribe to the Screenagers newsletter, which could potentially introduce bias into the results.

It's important to note that respondents who did not endorse students having phones with them during class were presented with only two options for phone storage: 1. in a wall-mounted shoe bag or 2. in a backpack/locker. Future research endeavors should expand the range of choices, such as considering phones in a designated basket or on the teacher's desk, to provide a more comprehensive assessment of preferences and recommendations.

This survey emphasizes the importance of heeding the perspectives of older students who bring valuable life experiences to the discussion. A significant majority of them favor not allowing   elementary and middle school students to have phones during class, which should be taken seriously by school administrators. Additionally, a substantial portion of high schoolers share this view for their own grade level.

In light of research highlighting academic, social, and emotional benefits associated with students not having access to phones during class time, schools should think seriously about implementation of such policies throughout all grade levels. 

Although this study does not directly address high school students' recommendations regarding complete cellphone absence throughout the entire school day, ongoing research in this area is currently in progress.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility to advance students' academic, social, and emotional well-being by continually investigating all facets of the "Away-For-The-Day" topic.

Appendix 1. 

High school students were asked to answer the following survey questions for this study:

If you were the chief decision maker for all ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS in the world, what would be your cellphone policy for classroom time (not break and lunchtime):

Phones are kept in cloth pouches on the wall (i.e., shoe holders)
Phones away in a backpack or locker
Phones can be on the student (like in their pockets)

If you were the Chief Decision Maker for all MIDDLE SCHOOLS in the world, what would be your cellphone policy for classroom time (not break and lunchtime):

Phones are kept in cloth pouches on the wall (i.e., shoe holders)
Phones away in a backpack or locker
Phones can be on the student (like in their pockets)

If you were the chief decision maker for all HIGH SCHOOLS, what would be your cellphone policy for classroom time (not break and lunchtime):

Phones are kept in cloth pouches on the wall (ie shoe holders)
Phones away in a backpack or locker
Phones can be on the student (like in their pockets)


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