A Call to Keep: How “Smartphone” Usage Combats Restrictive Phone Policies

Andrew Park ’25 in Opinions | October 6, 2023

          This year, Lawrenceville announced drastic changes to its student handbook and phone policies. Phone use is now prohibited in academic buildings as well as during study halls, and the Bunn Library has placed limits on collaborative work in order to stop students from congregating in order to use phones.
The School’s rationale for these policies is valid: phones cause major distractions to study, and Lawrenceville aims to create a motivating, focused environment. Moreover, phones have the potential to prevent students from having a healthy school experience, since technologies such as phones can cause addictions and disconnect students from offline social interactions. However, I believe that the current phone policies excessively limit the use of technology, which does not correctly fix the root of the problems that Lawrenceville students face.

          To unplug students from their phones, Lawrenceville created two major rules: 1) every student must turn in their phones during study hall, and 2) working at the Bunn Library will be limited to specific times and spaces, contrary to a system of work that was once completely free last year. Thus, it is evident that Lawrenceville considers phone use a problem.

          While the current phone policies effectively hinder technology use during times that require the students to concentrate, it does not effectively address the root of technology overuse: the lack of self-control. While the #WinAtSocial event, an attempt at monitoring and rewarding reduced phone usage, had attempted to instill a sense of self-control over technology within students, their programs are too indirect and non-interactive to affect an individual decision to use phones. Merely showing pictures, messages, and statistics about the danger of technology abuse will not shift student attitudes toward phone use. Besides the programs listed, Lawrenceville does nothing to properly educate its students about adequate phone use besides taking the phones away. Thus, these policies only address the symptoms, not the root cause of why students use phones.

          Moreover, adequate phone use has the potential to bring positive benefits to enhance student life. Students in the past years have seemed to perform well in classes despite restrictions on phone use. In addition, phones have the potential to serve as aids to student education, rather than distractions. Students frequently communicate with each other in group chats for classes in order to work through complicated problems. The banning of phones this year has made it difficult for students to work together; while there are still methods for collaboration, such as meeting at other Houses in person, this is difficult to coordinate due to the lack of phones. When I tried to collaborate with a peer in a different House, I ended up wandering around the circle for 30 minutes because I did not have a phone to communicate with my peers. Considering the stress-relieving leisure that social media and gaming bring, a justified amount of phone use, even during study hall, also aligns with what Lawrenceville expects from a healthy student life. Phone usage can allow for a balance of academic rigor and rest. With the right education on self-control, students could use phones for their educational and social benefits.

          In this technology-sensitive time, Lawrenceville actually is in a good place to fight off the problems that other schools are facing with phone use. The policy only needs some changes to fit with educating the students about what they have to do, and this could lead the school into a better place. Since the current School initiatives unintentionally restrict technology with immense potential for good, it is necessary for the School to loosen up the policies and focus on implementing programs for students to behave themselves.