Why all the fuss about mobile phones?

June 22, 2018

Why all the fuss about mobile phones?

Matt Hancock the culture secretary has suggested that schools ban mobile phones. This follows on from President Macron’s banning of mobile phones in French schools.  What has brought about these dramatic interventions ? The debate about whether mobile phones and social media are good or bad for children has been going on for some while. The research is far from conclusive but the general drift seems to suggest that they are bad for children’s mental health. 

In order to think a bit more clearly about this issue it’s helpful to reclassify what we are talking about. They are phones, but in name only, more relevantly smartphones are 24/7 entertainment centres, children hardly ever use the actual telephone function. 

Many parents duck the issue of phone use in the home despite knowing that they are disruptive and sometimes destructive to family life. If you have ever tried to take one off of a teenager you will know first hand how difficult it is to get between a teenager and his/her phone.

There are two issues I want to look at that might get us start taking this problem more seriously at home.

The first is the issue of addiction. Children’s screen time has been rapidly increasing. Teenagers spend up to 9 hours a day online. Older teenagers on average check their phone 2500 times per day. The top 10% look at their phone 5500 times day. 

Every time a child checks his/her phone their brain releases a chemical called dopamine. This is the chemical that the brain releases when you gamble, take drugs, drink, watch porn or play a computer game. This has important consequences for the child’s developing brain. It is also the reason they can go into a meltdown when you take their phone away. They are experiencing a form of withdrawal symptoms. Computer games and social media sites are specifically designed to keep children on them as long as possible. In other words they are designed to be addictive. 

It is also worth bearing in mind that time spent looking at a screen is at the cost of real face to face time. This is important because it’s how our children learn about social interactions.

The second less serious but nevertheless important issue is what happens to their thinking when they look a their phone. The research is now quite clear. If you look at your phone for even a second it takes 25 minutes for your thinking to get back to the level prior to checking your phone. This has huge implications for productivity generally but is especially relevant to children and their school work. Many teenagers find it difficult to do their work without their phone at hand, they are anxious that they will miss something. However there are two important consequences of this phone checking. Firstly any assignments will take substantially longer than they should and secondly the work will be of an inferior quality to that which could be produced if they could turn their phones off before they started.

My three suggestions are;

1  Give some thought as to whether they really need a smartphone. Just because they want one   doesn’t  mean they should have one.

2 Try and get them to turn off their phones when they do their homework.

3  Implement an electronic shutdown in the evenings so they get respite from the incessant demands of social media. 

These suggestions aren’t easy to implement but in the light of the research do we have a choice?   



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