For those of you that do not know, my oldest son is currently in Year 6 at Highfield. That means I have recently received a raft of information surrounding the use of iPads at the school. The reason for this is that during the second half of the Summer Term, Year 6 pupils start using their own iPads across the curriculum. This allows them the opportunity to develop the IT and research skills needed to use these devices effectively and safely in preparation for life at Senior School, where a high level of IT familiarity is expected. It also allows the children to learn how to use this technology safely and wisely, under the supervision of the school, working closely with parents.
This seems rather timely with discussions around children’s mobile phone use littering the media and Safer Internet Day falling on Tuesday 11th February. I have to admit to being surprised when I read some of the facts and figures around children’s mobile phone usage that are being quoted:
- Most children now have a phone by the age of seven;
- More than half of children sleep with their mobile phone beside their bed;
- Seven to sixteen year olds spend, on average, between 20 minutes and 3 hours on their phones a day;
- 70% of children have their phone connected to the internet.
I must admit that the concept of providing my children with mobile phones is completely alien to me. I did not have a phone as a child. I couldn’t because they were not available. If I remember correctly, I bought my first mobile phone during my university years, when I was nineteen. It was a brick of an object that could tell me the date and time, send text messages, make phone calls and play a very exciting game that involved a worm gobbling square blobs. I was thrilled at the multi functionality of this device!
I now marvel at the fact that I was able to meet up with a group of friends from all over the country for a night out in London or Leeds without any of us needing a hand held device. How did we organise the logistics without WhatsApp or email?
So, do my children need a mobile phone? Certainly not… yet. At Highfield, children are not allowed mobile phones at school, unless they are overseas boarders, who, at specific times, are allowed to remove them from their securely locked storage place, to contact their families in far off climes and different time zones. The reality is they would be a distraction. Rather than charging around the garden playing games and climbing trees, my boys would be begging me for fifteen more minutes of screen time. The temptation to communicate through a device rather than face to face would increase. The joy of living in the moment would be challenged by the fear of missing out, due to the bombardment of images advertising the next exciting adventure or amazing piece of kit, promoted either unwittingly by friends or explicitly by clever companies.
However, I cannot bury my head in the sand. There will come a time when my husband and I have to face the fact that our children will have a phone and probably long before their nineteenth birthday. I know that we are strong enough to ignore the, “All my friends are getting phones. Why aren’t I allowed one?” argument. Nevertheless, I will be using the guidance of experts to explain my reasoning. The reality is that significant numbers of children are susceptible to mobile phone addiction. Furthermore, the challenge of monitoring what my children can access online is almost impossible. I think I am ‘down with the kids’ because I occasionally use Facebook and WhatsApp, but my sixteen year old nieces giggle politely and inform me that I’ve completely missed Instagram and Snap Chat, while TikTok is now ‘on trend’.
So, when Father Christmas kindly leaves a phone under the Christmas tree for the Baber boys, there will be a family discussion and rules agreed by all of us. If I have my way, they will be something along the following lines:
- No phones in bedrooms.
- No phones at the meal table.
- No walking around with them in hand.
- Pre agreed time limits.
- Parental access with shared passwords, so we can check our children’s usage.
- Parents to lead by example.
Be it iPads or mobile phones, technology is a part of the modern world’s infrastructure and our children’s future. Despite forty per cent of parents believing that young people under the age of sixteen should be banned from owning devices (Poll conducted by the Priory), we cannot bury our heads in the proverbial sand. The key to finding the correct balance is a tricky, but important one.