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Four Ontario school boards are suing the companies behind social-media platforms Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok, accusing them of negligently designing products that disrupt learning.Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press

Across Canada, educators, parents and politicians are debating a critical question with no clear answer: what should be done about smartphones in the classroom? Ontario has banned smartphone use in classrooms, except in specific cases such as educational and medical purposes, since 2019, while Quebec enacted a similar ban in January. But the ability to enforce the restrictions remains difficult for teachers.

On March 28, four Ontario school boards took their fight one step further and are suing social media giants Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok, accusing them of negligently designing products that disrupt learning and rewire student behaviour while leaving educators to manage the fallout.

The Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Peel District School Board argued that social-media companies are employing “exploitative business practices” and choosing to “maximize profits” at the expense of the mental health and well-being of students.

There are many schools of thought on the topic, and they were well-represented by Globe readers on the article on the lawsuits, written by the Globe’s education reporter Caroline Alphonso. Take a look at how the issue is being discussed, and feel free to add your own thoughts to the original piece.

Comments have been edited for clarity and length.

The responsibility of parents

From Globe commenter Healthcareinsider3:

Parents have to support phone bans if teachers and boards want to adopt them. If they don’t, they are a no go. How many parents on this comment board don’t allow smart phone use/computer use on school nights? If you are not restricting the use of the gadgets, then please do not put down others. Please walk the talk before you criticize others.

From Globe commenter CountyLoyalist:

Students aren’t born with chips in their brain to access these platforms. Parents can protect them by not buying them smartphones and heavily monitoring at home computer use. Schools can confiscate cellphones that are brought into the school. If these platforms are a weapon in the hands of teenagers, treat them as guns at school are treated. Using the courts to avoid exercising our responsibilities is both cowardly and dangerous.

The responsibility of the government

From Globe commenter Settle Down:

I wonder if this isn’t a bit of a red herring – are the boards serious about pursuing the lawsuit, or are they trying to get a reaction from the provincial government to get a proper, enforceable ban on cellphone use in classrooms? There is a mountain of good evidence that they are detrimental to the mental well-being of people, especially young people, and that the apps are deliberately designed to be addictive. The education system keeps telling kids that they care for their well-being, but will not take the simple step of banning cellphones from classrooms.

The responsibility of tech companies

From Globe commenter sterretje:

Everyone keeps stating that parents are to blame, the teachers are to blame, etc. It’s time we went to the source. It is time that these companies, which would throw your kids under the bus for a buck, are made responsible. Why all of this reluctance to hit the private sector? Ask them why these “products” are available to your kids, and why they are made more addictive every day, without anyone saying anything.

From Globe reader WhistlingInTheDark:

A lot of people say ban the phones. Maybe it’s a better idea. But those suggesting this are acknowledging there is a problem, and the problem is not the phones – it’s the apps on them. Not only that, but a phone ban would be unworkable. Educators don’t have time to be searching bags. Regulation has done nothing to protect kids against the pernicious influence of social media. The stats in the article are frightening – a third of kids spending at least 5 hours a day on it, with a third reporting cyberbullying.

From Globe reader Gizella:

This seems rather a futile gesture. It will be interesting to see whether the social media ban for minors that just got signed into legislature in Florida (apparently with the support of Democrats as well as Republicans) will work too. This is a very insidious problem, as long as a child or youth has access to the internet and if they’ve got a cellphone.

That there is a problem seems evident, and is supported by social scientists researching the impact of social media on especially young and malleable people. But short of censoring the internet somehow, this needs to be tackled differently, and it probably starts at home with what parents permit their children and teach them. Then a stronger focus on critical thinking in education at school.

The responsibility of teachers and the schools

From Globe reader app_72061126:

There is a similar problem at business meetings. Ever been to a meeting and watched various folks reading their phone or watches? My solution – don’t ban the phones. Simply stop the meeting and tell the crowd we will all wait until John Doe is finished with his important e-mail. It only takes one time. In my school days it wasn’t phones, it was notes being passed between a pair of students. The teacher would ask the student to read the note out. End of problem. Yes, parents should be held to account. But in the classroom the teacher is in charge.

From Globe reader Peter Manderville:

Many school boards are complete failures at actually educating the students they are responsible for. If a school or school board allowed the students to bring unlimited amounts of chocolate, candy and other junk food to school and eat it all day, would that be Cadbury’s and Lays’ fault and grounds for a lawsuit against them? This seems like a stunt to distract from their miserable performance and unwillingness to make students, parents and the boards themselves accountable for anything.

From Globe commenter InnocentByStandr:

I agree with the argument against social media apps and their negative impact on both growing minds and learning. The better question to the TDSB is “why not ban mobile devices during class time?”

Our son, 13 years old, had a terrible time focusing in class. Monitoring of his phone revealed a lot of daytime use during the week. Solution was simple – we worked with his really great teacher and asked that he collect our son’s phone on the way into class. Problem solved, child back on the learning track. Business idea: every classroom has a phone cubby. Every cubby has a phone in it during class time. There is no good argument for kids needing their phones during math!

From Globe commenter Mlk11:

This is truly insane. Our schools should be focused on education, not litigation. Here is the solution: don’t allow phones in the classroom. Increase physical education time, try to find ways to increase active learning. And in addition to innovating, return to (some aspects of) tradition. Teach grammar. Teach home economics! Teach music appreciation. But get the lawyers out of the classroom. Even if successful, this money will not be used to address the underlying problems.

Lived experience

From Globe reader Andy1242:

I was teaching when cellphones became ubiquitous and problematic. I collected them in a box at the beginning of every period. Popular? Of course not, but the students grew to understand my purpose and became accustomed. School administration has become weaker these days, loath to upset fragile souls or to ignite the anger of helicopter parents. The new crop of teachers lacks the nerve to implement and enforce classroom rules, and would receive no support if they attempted it.

Should phones be banned? Obviously, yes. However, it will take a complete revision of the socio/education contract to effect any real change. This would require replacing the entire current senior administrative model. (Cellphones are but one problem among a great many.)

It’s essential, but, under the current circumstances, unlikely. Without some action, the public system will continue to erode.

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