Parents in Regional School Unit 5 are rallying behind an alliance to restrict smartphone and social media use in schools, following a national trend of cellphone bans in schools.

The group RSU5 Alliance for Thoughtful Technology, was spearheaded in the past few weeks by Annie Ware with the help of several other parents. Inspired by the book, “Anxious Generation,” the group aims to restrict smartphone use in grades below high school. Kristian Moravec / The Times Record

The group, RSU5 Alliance for Thoughtful Technology, was spearheaded in recent weeks by Annie Ware with the help of several other parents. The goal, Ware said, is to more effectively ban smartphone use — and subsequent social media use — among kids younger than ninth grade.

“This is really out of my comfort zone,” Ware said of kickstarting the alliance. “But that’s how passionate I am about this.”

RSU 5 includes schools in Freeport, Durham and Pownal.

When Ware, a Durham resident, spoke with The Times Record on Monday, two of her three daughters were present. Instead of tapping away at an iPad or smartphone, the two 8-year-old girls worked on friendship bracelets. Her family, Ware said, is “screen-light.”

Ware listened to the audiobook “Anxious Generation” — which inspired her to address the issue of cellphone use — after it came out in March. She said that she and her husband found the data in it “terrifying.”


“The Anxious Generation,” written by American psychologist Jonathan Haidt, makes the case that increased cellphone use in kids is rewiring children’s brains and increasing mental illness. In the book, Haidt advocates for banning cellphones in schools, allowing kids more independence, banning social media for kids before the age of 16 and more strict measures.

“The book struck a nerve,” Ware said. “Because it kind of corroborated everything that my husband and I sort of had a feeling was true to the nth degree.”

Ware’s kids recently switched over to Durham Community School, and her eldest daughter, who will enter the fifth grade this year, already has friends with phones. Ware began reaching out to friends and parent groups on Facebook, learning about initiatives to limit phone use in other communities, such as Falmouth and Scarborough, but noticed no such efforts in her local district.

Taking matters into her own hands, she put together a Google form to gauge parent interest in tackling smartphone use issues. Almost 100 people had filled out the form as of this week. Nearly half of the parents who responded had children enrolled in Mast Landing School, and many of the responses indicated that the students were in elementary school, according to the form’s data.

While there may be school phone policies in place to manage use in the classroom, Ware questions how these policies are enforced, especially if the adults at home are not doing much to limit cellphone use.

Addressing phone use at this age level, she said, is a community issue. She hopes that with stronger parent support, schools can enact more effective phone policies.


“To no fault [of] teachers and administrators, either,” Ware said. “Again, I come back to parents and families of kids. And when we have these kids who are addicted to something — in this case, the dopamine rush of scrolling — we have to start there.”

‘In order for change to happen, it needs to be collective action’

The growing RSU 5 alliance comes amid a recent ban of cellphones and smartwatches in Regional School Unit 1 for grades 6-12, which will take effect in the next school year.

While cellphone use bans have been in place throughout many Maine schools, RSU 1 will now require students to drop phones off in Yondr pouches — a case that allows the student to remain in possession of their phone but prevents them from using it. Students will be able to unlock the pouches at the end of the day.

Stacy Taylor and Crystal Schreck are both parents with children in the Falmouth School District. They see the ban in RSU 1 and rising interest in RSU 5 as a promising change toward a better learning environment.

Both are heavily involved with the Falmouth Alliance for Thoughtful Technology and work frequently with other thoughtful technology alliances in the Turn the Tide Coalition. Currently, the coalition includes 12 towns in the Midcoast/Southern Maine region.

“In order for change to happen, it needs to be collective action,” Taylor said. “[The alliances] are working independently but in step.”


She said that the strict phone ban in Bath, which physically restricts phone use in schools, could inspire other schools in Maine to do the same. Schreck added that bans of this nature will lead to uninterrupted class time with peers and teachers.

“We feel very strongly that this is the only way you can see material change,” Schreck said.

The priority for now, they said, is to educate parents on the risks of cellphone use and prepare to address school boards in the fall.

Children from ages 8-12 average about four to six hours a day using screens, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, though kids of all ages spend ample amounts of time in front of a screen. With such high screen times each day — and the subsequent use of apps and social media platforms that can expose kids to bullying, age-inappropriate content and more — professionals warn of the impact this can have on mental health.

In late May, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a warning about the impact social media has on mental health in youth, citing harmful content and interruptions with sleep and quality time with others.

“The most common question parents ask me is, ‘Is social media safe for my kids?’, ” Murthy said in the press release. “The answer is that we don’t have enough evidence to say it’s safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health.”

Annie Ware sent out a Google form to collect basic information about parents interested in forming an alliance against smartphone and social media use. A majority of parents had kids in elementary school, according to Ware’s responses. Courtesy image

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