This morning, I’ve been talking to Chelsea Norris about children and Smartphones on BBC Radio Manchester (7.49am on this programme):
The focus of this programme was on what age is appropriate to buy a child a mobile phone (or specifically a smartphone). In my book Raising Children in a Digital Age I wrote:
In preparation for this story, aside from looking back at my own research, and having a chat on Facebook (accessible to friends only), I looked at the following stories (as I was told that it would be about banning phones in schools):
- Anne Longfield and Carolyn Roberts had a debate in the Guardian in the summer, in which I thought both made good points, with Carolyn finishing with ‘You suggest that smartphones don’t add anything to school life; I argue that they don’t necessarily detract.’ Media narratives typically start from a negative perspective, about the ‘damage’ they do: how can we change that conversation? There is a feeling from Anne Longfield that students would simply be using phones to ‘look up information’, although mixed with concerns about pressure from others, but we need to understand how children are actually using phones, often in a more blended way than many adults.
- They were responding to a call from Matt Hancock (then Culture Secretary) to ban phones in schools. He often draws on his experience with his own children in debating government policy, which makes a good hook, but definitely keen to see what further research he’s looking at (especially whether he’s looking at the latest LSE research). What are the ‘studies’ he references? Yesterday I was reading Frank Furedi How Fear Works: Culture of Fear in the 21st Century, and this section seems appropriate:
As a researcher, I subscribe to the idea that research is valuable, but I want to know which studies, on who, when!
- Sonia Sodha also mandated banning phones in schools in this article, and I would agree that there is no need for children to have their phones on them (or at least not actively on them) at all times in school, and I also agree about parents modelling good behaviour on phones. This, however, can be achieved by learning to use phones better as part of school – and this response from a teacher on my Facebook is helpful: “we then have a traffic light policy as to how the devices are used in the class.. green being have them out and use them as much as you want.. to red meaning they should be away unless asked different. We then say they can use them at breaks but not headphones whilst walking around the school site.” Other schools allow to/from schools, but not in schools, others actively encourage use in the classroom.
- I liked a couple of quotes from this article in Forbes: ‘When banned, students bring them as stowaways — and a hidden problem is still a problem.’, and this from Timothy McGuire, Sound United: ‘Teachers, not lawmakers, should run the classroom. That said, this is a well-intentioned law, but I suspect it’s a ham-fisted creation. And yes, most teachers should ban phones if that is a distraction, and most employers should as well. But good employees shouldn’t need the rule. Do your work. Pay attention. Be present. This should ideally be a local cultural shift rather than a mandate.’
- And finally, I looked at this piece on The Conversation, including this quote: ‘The solution is not prohibition, but education. This is not without its challenges – but if we are shaping the workforce of tomorrow then we have to consider how we prepare students to be part of it. Exam results are important, but so too are wider skills such as using technology appropriately and safely, and having the self-discipline to regulate the use of mobile technology – knowing the right time and place to fire up a smart phone.’
So, no one size fits all, children can get some relief from rules, but blanket rules don’t really work (and this is still a topic of conversation at university level). It’s rather like diets, which also don’t work (in the long run), in which we’re taught to follow rules, rather than learn good behaviours that work for our overall wellbeing. And, as always, where can we start the conversation from the ‘benefits’ rather than the ‘dangers’!
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.