Smartphones should not be allowed in Irish primary schools, Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín has said, after fears were raised about an increase in anxiety among primary school pupils. Mr Tóibín made the comments in response to the decision by parents at St. Kevin’s National School in Greystones to hold off on buying their children a smartphone.
This week, it was reported that parents at St Kevin’s had signed up to a voluntary code to delay the purchase of smartphones for children until they reach second-level.
As reported by The Independent, the 480-pupil school in Greystones, Wicklow, already has a policy banning the use of smartphones by pupils during school hours or on the school premises.
“The new code will take that a step further as parents sign up to a collective agreement not to allow their children to own a smartphone up to and including sixth class,” the paper reports.
The action follows a recent report from Irish charity CybersafeKids, which showed that 30 percent of eight and nine-year-olds own smartphones. This figure rises to 77 percent by the time children reach 12, according to the charity’s latest report.
The TD said parents should be cautious of putting a smartphone into the hands of their children, adding that this presents difficulties for young pupils.
“New technology can be a great addition to the lives of citizens throughout the state and we want our children to be able to develop skills in how to use that new technology safely in their lives.
“However, putting the power of a smartphone, full access to the all internet and social media into the hands of the very young children and sending them to school with their peers is a significant challenge to any 10 or 11-year old child,” he said, adding that seeing children “glued” to their phones comes at a cost to developing communication skills.
“Communication is one of the most important skills that any person can learn. It is invaluable in our family, social and work lives. When we see children in class, on school buses, school yards and eating their lunch while glued to their smartphones, it is clear that there is a cost to their developing communication skills,” he said.
The Aontú leader also pointed to the impact of smartphones on concentration, while highlighting the impact of social media on young minds, stating:
“We also hear regularly that children’s ability to concentrate at school is reduced when mobile phones and social media sites are pinging the arrival of new messages and likes. In an education sphere where concentration is already under pressure smartphones are a cost to learning. A study in Britain in 2015 showed that smart phone bans in school was equivalent to an extra week’s tuition a year.
“We also know that social media is phenomenally powerful. Even for adults, its addictive qualities can be profound. Social networks are physically addictive and psychologically addictive. Self-disclosure, likes, engagements etc stimulates parts of the brain that experience pleasure. The need for validation and fear of missing out are especially strong motivations in young children.”
He went on to describe social media as “addictive by design” – highlighting calls made for companies including Facebook to be regulated in a similar way to cigarette companies.
“Yet, many children are plugged into this powerful technology even at school,” he said.
Mr Tóibín called for schools to ban smartphones, after one primary school principal spoke out about anxiety among individual primary school pupils.
Rachel Harper, principal of St Patrick’s National School in Greystones, Co Wicklow, told the Irish Times last week that the level of anxiety seen in schools is “unprecedented”.
“In particular, children as young as 10 years of age are struggling with what would have been considered teenage issues at an earlier age,” she said – as she opened up on how primary schools in Greystones and Delgany were working together to recruit a play therapist for pupils.
Aontu leader Mr Tóibín also pointed to a rise in anxiety and depression – which he said can be attributed in part to online bullying and extensive use of smartphones.
“We have seen a significant rise in anxiety and depression among children in recent years. This can develop from online bullying. Many children spend up to 25 hours a week on smart phones often into the early hours of the morning. On average children spent twice the length of time on their phones than talking to their parents,” he said.
The TD said a time has come for action, as he highlighted concerns around children bringing smartphones into school.
“Much of the content on the internet is not suitable for children who are 10 and 11 years old. Bringing smartphones into schools means that even those children who have no smartphones can be given sight of material that is dangerous to children.”
Mr Tóibín also raised concerns about access to hardcore pornography at a young age – which he said “is increasingly being seen as an ingredient to destructive, damaging and criminal behaviour.”
“We have reached a point where action needs to be taken. At the very least the government should ban the use of smart phones among children in primary school,” he said.
In its survey from February, CyberSafeKids found that 22 percent of 8-12 year-olds (from a sample of 1,600) had seen content online that they “wouldn’t want their parents to know about”.
30 percent of children told the online safety charity’s survey that they can “go online whenever they want,” while half (50 percent) said they felt they “spend too much time online.”
A quarter (25 percent) said that they “find it hard to switch off from games and apps” according to the charity.