In what has been coined the “New Great Depression,” the number of high schoolers who agree with the phrases “I can’t do anything right,” “I do not enjoy life,” and “My life is not useful” has doubled since 2010. That’s an unprecedented spike.

Constant cellphone use has exacerbated a mental health crisis among our youth, who have been relentlessly exposed to online content during critical years of formation and growth, including during school hours.

Jonathan Haidt sounds the alarm about this in his new book, “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.” He also lays out solutions, including allowing no smartphones before age 14, no social media until age 16, phone-free classrooms, and more free play time.

With mounting evidence of the toxicity of smartphone overuse in our children, the time has come to ask ourselves a difficult but necessary question: Are we willing to do something about it?

While we have bemoaned the consequences, we have neglected to take effective action to truly stem the tide of destruction. Maybe we don’t want to anger or isolate our kids. We ourselves are used to always being “on.” We fear we don’t have the resources to fight powerful Big Tech, and we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we allowed it to get this far. 

This is what students on the phone at school looked like in 1938, at least according to this scene from the Columbia Pictures film “Girls’ School.” (Photo: Irving Lippman/Vintage Images/Getty Images)

As a parent, I am more committed than ever to keeping my young children away from smartphones and social media apps in order to allow them to develop and connect in the real world. As a lawmaker, I know that I have a responsibility to our teachers, administrators, and parents alike to stop the ubiquitous presence of phones in classrooms, and set our students up for success by minimizing distractions.

It will come as no surprise that 97% of students are on their phones during typical school hours—texting, posting, filming, scrolling, watching, rinsing and repeating. Despite many school districts having policies against phone use in class, the reality is that enforcement is a challenge when the endlessly compelling internet portal can be easily hidden behind a book or under a desk. We’ve sent our kids to school with a television, boom box, and walkie-talkies, and expected them to pay attention during class. 

States must take firm action now to get smartphones out of classrooms and give our students and teachers uninterrupted time to focus on math, science, reading, writing, and in-person socialization. Public education is one of the largest funding priorities in any state budget, and lawmakers have a responsibility to the families they serve and the taxpayers who are footing the bill to provide an educational environment that is conducive to learning and free of inappropriate influence.  

Removing the temptation during school hours will unchain our students from the technocratic overlords who are monetizing the destruction of their brains. Phones can be slipped in locking neoprene pouches at the beginning of the school day and kept out of sight in backpacks until school is dismissed. Or they can be left in lockers with immediate consequences for visible phones in classrooms, hallways, and cafeterias.

Nothing worth doing is ever easy or without some opposition, and this will be no exception. Parents will need to be confident that their children will still be reachable in an emergency, and Big Tech will no doubt launch a defense in an effort to keep their underage customers online all day.

However, the results will be well worth it, as proven in the schools that have already adopted this approach across the nation. There’s no need to imagine a world where children exist free of the constant threat of online hazards. It’s possible for the children you know to be free today. 

Teachers and parents alike will be grateful for this “new normal,” reaping the benefits of more engaged children and focused time in the classroom. Students will finally feel what it is like to be unleashed and free from a prison of our creation. Who knows, they may even start making eye contact again.

Every state should rise to this challenge and give school districts the tools and support they need to make this a reality. I will be filing a bill in the Texas Legislature to do just that. Our children have become servants to the creeping compulsions of Big Tech under our watch, and it’s time we step up to save them from what we know is slowly killing them—and do it sooner, rather than later.

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