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Hochul proposes ban on smartphones in New York schools

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(The Center Square) — Gov. Kathy Hochul is considering a smartphone ban in New York schools as part of a broader effort to address youth mental health issues and curb teens’ use of social media.

Hochul said she plans to introduce the proposal in next year’s legislative session, which begins in January. She claims smartphone use in schools is “harmful” for kids who she claims spend more time scrolling through their social media feeds than paying attention to their studies.

“Why are our young people on their devices all day long during school hours?” Hochul said Thursday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. “You don’t have to be in the world of social media throughout the day.”

The Democrat didn’t disclose details of the proposal but said it is “crucial” to protect kids’ mental health. She said the plan would be open to “low tech” alternatives for kids, such as flip phones without internet access, so parents can still call or text in an emergency.

Social media companies are increasingly being blamed for the rising rates of depression, suicidality and other mental health issues among youth nationally. In response, states and local governments are increasingly considering legislation and legal action to crack down on social media use.

Tech media executives, including Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, were recently grilled by members of Congress about children’s online safety during hearings where they accused the companies of having “blood on their hands” and for failing to protect children from being sexually exploited online.

Hochul Is urging lawmakers to pass a package of bills to tackle the state’s youth mental health crisis before they break for summer recess. That includes a plan requiring social media platforms to create a chronological feed instead of an algorithm-based feed for younger users under 18 and block access and notifications between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Another bill, the “New York Child Data Protection Act,” would prohibit online sites from collecting, using or sharing personal data of individuals under the age of 18 without their parents’ consent.

In January, New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared social media a “public health threat” and filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Snapchat and other social media networks, blaming the big-tech companies for fueling a youth mental health crisis.

Lawmakers in Congress are lining up behind the Kids Online Safety Act, a controversial bill intended to protect kids from dangerous content online. However, despite bipartisan support for the restrictions, the measure has failed to gain traction.