It’s 8:30 a.m. and I’m standing in front of a sea of teenagers huddled at their desks, their heads uniformly turned downward, the blue light of their smartphones illuminating their faces.

For a moment, I feel like I’m living an episode of Black Mirror, a satirical Netflix series that takes place in the near future and provides an exaggerated take on the dangers of modern technology, including smartphones and social media.

But I’m not an actor in a sci-fi series. I’m a teacher in the Delta school district who works with 15- and 16-year-old students, and I’m alarmed at their obsessive smartphone use.

There’s no question in my mind that when you give a teenage student 24/7 fingertip access to an array of social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – you have a recipe for a disengaged, lethargic, addicted and ultimately unhappy youth.

The problems that arise from excessive social media have been well documented and cut across all ages, genders, races and socio-economic brackets. They include depression, social anxiety and insomnia.

Perhaps most insidious is the paradox of being “socially connected” at all times, but actually feeling more isolated and lonely than ever before.

As an adult having recently crossed the threshold into my 30s, I look back on my own social media use among family and friends, at work, and attending classes at university. I realize that I was not much more disciplined than many of the kids I teach today. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that most of us are addicted, in varying degrees, to smartphone technology.

But there is something else going on here. We know that rates of teenage depression and anxiety have been on a sharp rise in recent years. Some of this uptick may simply be an increase in clinical diagnosis, but most would agree that these disorders are becoming more prevalent.

The reasons have been as well-documented as the effects. Social media apps like Instagram and Facebook are designed to show the highlight reels of other peoples’ lives. When our “friends” share these experiences with us, we subconsciously suffer feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and dissatisfaction with our own lives. Potentially more damaging, these social media platforms serve as vehicles for popularity contests. The more “likes” you get, the cooler you are.

Now sit back and try to imagine the impact on teenagers. They are already in an awkward and confusing time in their life, rife with feelings of insecurity, the need to fit in, and powerful hormonal changes. With social media, their feelings of self worth and validation can depend entirely on how many “likes” they get, so it naturally follows that they feel compelled to incessantly check their phone to see how they are performing. For every “like” they get, their brains get hit with a spike of dopamine, further reinforcing their addictive tendency to check their phones in the search of another dopamine hit. And with all-hours access to their phones, there is no refuge.

As teachers, we are daily witnesses to the negative aspects of smartphone usage. Every day, we see students wandering around the halls with their heads buried in their phones, oblivious to each other’s company and the world around them.

Ironically, when I ask students about their Snapchat, Instagram and overall phone usage, their response is almost always the same: They recognize it may be a problem and agree it’s addictive and detrimental to their learning. Even more disturbing, they agree that it may not be good for their mental health.

So if we know about the negative effects these phones are causing our teenagers, and they know the problems they causing in their lives, why aren’t we doing more to help them curb their addiction? Why aren’t we banning, or at least taking stronger measures, to limit smartphone usage in our schools?

One common objection is that students need to learn how to regulate and responsibly monitor their personal usage. While this reasoning makes sense in theory, it doesn’t hold up in real life. We can’t expect anybody – adult or youth – whose world is defined by social media to control their smartphone obsessions without outside support.

Another argument is that smartphones can be used for educational purposes. To this point, I would say that – at least in my school district – we have ample computers and laptops to accommodate this.

Another well-worn objection is that parents need to be able to contact their children at school. Let’s remember one archaic but effective means of getting in touch – calling the school office. It seems to have worked well for the last century or so.

I realize that, given the ubiquity of smartphones, banning or restricting them would be met with stiff resistance. It would also require the creation and implementation of a compliance program that would be time consuming, controversial and distracting. And unless there was district-wide, or at least school-wise, conformity the system would gradually and inevitably break down.

But we can’t be daunted by these challenges. Our teenagers live in a brave new world and we have to provide them with brave new solutions to ensure that their school experience is healthy, happy and productive. From where I stand, they have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Spencer Baines is a teacher at South Delta Secondary School.