Newsom seeks to restrict students' cellphone use in schools: 'Harming the mental health of our youth'

Newsom seeks to restrict students' cellphone use in schools: 'Harming the mental health of our youth'

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced Tuesday his pledge to restrict students' smartphone use during the school day, pointing to statements from the Biden administration that social media harms the mental health of children.

The decision comes after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy urged Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms about their impact on young people, similar to the warning labels on cigarettes and alcohol about their impacts on a person's health, according to POLITICO, which first reported Newsom's announcement.

Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, have warned for years about the harm of social media to children, saying tech companies have been blocking efforts to protect young people.

Last year, Newsom called on NetChoice to drop a lawsuit against the children's online safety law, the Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, that he signed in 2022. NetChoice, whose members include tech giants like Meta, Amazon and Google, is a trade association that advocates for free expression and free enterprise on the internet.


The governor said Tuesday he plans to build on a law he signed in 2019 that gave school districts the power to limit or ban students' use of smartphones during school hours. He said he would work with his Democratic-controlled Legislature during the current session to pass a measure to restrict smartphone use in schools.

"As the Surgeon General affirmed, social media is harming the mental health of our youth," Newsom said in a statement. "Building on legislation I signed in 2019, I look forward to working with the Legislature to restrict the use of smartphones during the school day. When children and teens are in school, they should be focused on their studies — not their screens."

The California School Boards Association said school districts should be making decisions on whether to regulate smartphone use in schools, rather than the state.

"We support legislation which empowers school leaders to make policy decisions at a local level that reflect their community's concerns and what's necessary to support their students," California School Boards Association spokesperson Troy Flint told The Associated Press.


The Los Angeles Unified School District board voted Tuesday for the district to establish policies prohibiting students' smartphone use during the school day, with some exceptions. Board Member Nick Melvoin noted how "students are glued to their cell phones, not unlike adults."

"When I talk to teachers and students and parents and principals, I also hear the same, which is that more and more time is being spent on policing student phone use," he said at the meeting. "There's not coherent enforcement, and they're looking for some support from the board and from the district."

Newsom's announcement is noteworthy as California's Silicon Valley is where many tech companies are located.

The decision also puts the California governor on the same side of the debate as Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who earlier this year signed one of the most restrictive bans in the country on children's social media use.

In recent years, a California proposal to fine social media platforms for addicting children has failed to become law. However, Democrat state Sen. Nancy Skinner's bill to ban platforms from providing addictive feeds to children passed the state Senate in May.

"A warning label is important, but we also need to provide parents with tools to protect their kids from preventable harms," Skinner told POLITICO, saying her bill would complement Murthy's proposal.

State Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat, introduced a bill earlier this year to expand school districts' power to restrict social media use for students during school. He said he would be open to pulling his bill, which already passed the Senate, if Newsom and the Legislature can find a better alternative.

"It's just too hard for every teacher, every school, or every parent to have to figure this out on their own," Stern told The Associated Press. "There's some times where government just has to step in and make some bigger rules of the road."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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