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Not to sound like a pessimistic, cane-wielding tech-hater desperate to stop the inevitable, but allowing cellphones, extremely loosely regulated (if at all), in schools has been catastrophic and will only get worse.

As someone who graduated from a public high school in 2021, I can say with certainty that the "kids these days'' are zombiefying themselves, and frankly, it's not entirely the kids' fault. This is seriously addictive technology that was placed in minors' hands en masse, liberally allowed in schools with very little thought to the actual consequences, and now we're experiencing a taste of the consequences.

Superficially, these consequences seemed like trivial annoyances: small changes in the way kids act, exploring the newest fad. I'm at the age to have experienced a time before phones became dominant in school, and then the gradual, choking transition into mass addiction.

Imagine: The bell rings, signaling the beginning of passing time. Students quickly pack up, streaming into hallways. It became uncommon, then rare, then near impossible to meet another pair of alert eyes while going to class. Backs are hunched, necks are craning, eyes boring into phones. Classrooms, prior to class starting, became quieter and quieter, as students opted to be on their phones instead of talking to their friends.

My most phone-addicted friends, who became particularly ensnared, invited me once to feel the back of their skulls. We were all about 15 at the time. I gingerly probed what I thought was going to be a smooth skull under hair. Instead, I encountered thickened, hardened masses at the base of their heads.

Six years later, they still have these lumps, and blame their excessive phone use (hunching over them constantly) as adolescents and teenagers. These "horns," are bone spurs built up from increased pressure on the neck and back of head; despite their seeming harmlessness, it's unnerving, feeling the warped skulls of my peers. How else are our habits shaping our bodies and minds? Perhaps only time will tell.

This mere decrease in day-to-day socializing isn't dangerous in itself, although it certainly is depressing. What's worrisome is that my generation isn't making the connections they need to be happy and healthy, which is subsequently harming their physical and mental health. The constant alternative of easy stimulation and pleasurable activities, such as gaming, binge-watching and social media, as opposed to maintaining relationships, can be done alone. For the sake of their students' well-being, schools should be doing all they can to encourage people not to isolate themselves, at the very least not in class.

Furthermore, beyond the social consequences, there are serious safety criminal concerns regarding phones in schools. Middle and high schools across the country are experiencing the horrifying consequences of AI, particularly deepfake software, which is completely accessible, inadequately regulated and in the hands of predatory young men.

A recent New York Times exposé detailed stories across the country of young men using totally normal photos (such as prom pictures) of their underage girl classmates to create pornographic deepfakes of them. What results is permanent pornographic photos and videos of these underage girls that look completely realistic on the internet for all interested parties to see.

If you're sitting in class, you shouldn't be in danger of your classmate photographing you and making you the star in their permanent pornographic film. With this kind of unregulated software easily available to young men (who receive a slap on a wrist and anonymity for their crimes, unlike their victims, whose names were broadcast on the school loudspeaker in a New Jersey school), phone use should not be tolerated in a classroom, anywhere.

As a result of the 2024 Minnesota legislative session, a new law will require Minnesota schools to have a set cellphone policy by the end of next year. When deliberating on a policy, education leaders in Minnesota should seriously evaluate the damage cellphones are causing young people in our state and around the country.

Obviously I'm not saying the actual object of a cellphone should be banned in schools. Students should have the ability to call their parents, or emergency responders, or anybody who is necessary to coordinate their pickup/drop off. Students should be able to have their phone on them throughout the day, but the expectation should be that it stays put away. Due to the tempting and addictive nature of cellphones, it would have to be a zero-tolerance policy, and be very strictly enforced for it to work.

I propose having a designated, highly supervised area in middle and high schools where students are allowed to take out and use their phone strictly for coordinating purposes. Naturally, during a health emergency or safety concern students should be able to use their phone as needed. There can be exceptions for those who need them. But my point is that the default shouldn't be a free-for-all.

It's worth noting that in my entire high school career, not once did I ever need to use my phone for a purpose other than coordinating pickup times. Yet I still seemed to use it a fair bit. It's just too tempting to have it usable, especially when everyone else is on their phone too.

And during the years where I didn't have a phone to coordinate pickup times after school activities, I just sat outside the building until someone drove me home, like every single other person who was born before 2003. It wasn't the most convenient, but it was perfectly fine.

The bottom line is that I genuinely feel as though I've watched many of my peers that I grew up with, who had high hopes, bright minds, dreams and ambitions, melt into a techno-fueled puddle of ruinous scrolling and clicking. I certainly feel like I've lost a part of myself to this mess, and would have a hard time finding someone in my generation not negatively affected.

If we can better protect the upcoming generation from this, we should do it. It's not about getting rid of phones and technology, it's about navigating the pros and cons of living with it in order to maximize everyone's lives.

Aurora Weirens, an intern for Star Tribune Opinion, is a Minnesota native and a student at Cornell University.