Content sponsored by St. Richard’s Episcopal School

Students today need help like never before. A growing body of research–most prominently summarized in Jonathan Haidt’s recent book, The Anxious Generation–shows how smartphones and social media negatively affect children’s academic performance, cognitive development, and mental health. The science is compelling. This moment offers a meaningful opportunity for schools and parents to work together to thwart a persistent threat to our kids’ education and well-being.

To those of us in the education field, this is not new. In 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory about the harms of social media on kids’ mental health. Global data, including studies UNESCO cited in a recent call to action, confirm the link between device distraction and diminished academic performance. The Indiana legislature recently required public schools to promulgate phone policies. That is a good step, but efforts cannot stop there.

Turning this challenge into an opportunity for growth aligns with St. Richard’s Episcopal School’s long-standing approach to education. Our goal for each student is developing “Knowledge and Values for a Lifetime.” Since its inception in 1960, St. Richard’s has provided a curriculum based in educational research and timeless values that meets the evolving needs of our students and families. This approach embraces diversity while developing global citizens socially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. We foster the nurturing environment and caring community children need to prosper.

In line with those values, St. Richard’s employs technology only as a supplemental tool for targeted teaching and student support, never as the primary source of instruction or curriculum. Students in Lower Division, grades 1-4, receive a maximum of 30 minutes of screen time per day, and we use that time to develop skills in digital literacy and citizenship, coding, and robotics. John Brady, our Middle Division Head, summarizes well how technology informs our curriculum in grades 5-8: “As technological developments accelerate all around us, our focus is to prepare students who can maximize the benefits of using technology while developing creativity, empathy, and connectedness; those human characteristics will enable our students to flourish both because of–and in response to–our changing world.” Effective monitoring enables our teachers to help students make good decisions with technology, while our focus on developing global citizens helps students use these tools responsibly on their own.

St. Richard’s is proud to be a leader in prioritizing student well-being by banning phones during the school day. We have secured our classrooms, lunchroom, and outdoor recess as no phone zones for the past eight years. School Counselor Victoria Fox reflects, “It’s refreshing to see students genuinely engaged throughout the day at SRES. Without smartphones, the kids are having real conversations, playing games together, and creating memories with their classmates.” Likewise, while teachers around the country lament the challenge of teaching to students distracted by devices, we empower our teachers by removing such disruptions.

We have also engaged our community in digital safety training since 2018. As those trainings emphasize, the harmful effects of phones and social media go beyond the school day. Building on this, we are eager to engage in a broader dialogue about the influences phones and other devices have on our kids and our families.

Research–and experience–compel us to take these efforts even further. Even phone-free school days are not enough to protect our students from the developmental hurdles of digital life. School communities need to unite to cultivate an optimal holistic environment for our students to learn and grow–on campus, at home, and in community. Making that happen will take work from all involved. Leading this initiative is our Director of Technology, Ellen Cone, who has a Master’s in technology innovation for education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor’s in childrens’ cognitive development from Brown University. Ellen reports the encouraging news that other local schools have reached out to draft policies similar to those we already have in place.

Change can happen. We think it is possible to reduce smartphone and device usage at any school that enforces appropriate policies and encourages family commitments. So, with care and respect for how every family currently interacts with technology, St. Richard’s invites everyone to embrace this moment and participate in community conversations aimed at reversing phone-based childhood dynamics, increasing free play and responsibility, and protecting children’s mental health in this digital era.

This summer and fall we will host a 3-part education series for school leaders, parents, and the larger Indiana community. Please refer to and social media for dates and times to join us.