A recent memo before Cabinet on introducing a voluntary no smartphone policy for primary school students finally opens up the conversation about the appropriate use of smartphones, a Senator has said. Senator Mary Seery Kearney said she welcomed the fact that parents and schools are to be supported in the move to restrict smartphone use among younger children.
“The guidelines will be instrumental in providing a framework for schools and parents associations to canvass the views of parents and assist them in subscribing to a no smartphone policy,” she said. “Smartphones are a fantastic utility that assists us in modern life, however, they must be used with maturity and care and children do not have the maturity to discern what is healthy and what is damaging on phones. Unsupervised use can lead to children being exposed to influences and material that is deeply unsuited to their age,” Senator Seery Kearney continued. “Children also do not need the politics of the “Whatsapp” group at tender vulnerable ages and they need to be protected from cyber bullying. This move by Minister for Education Norma Foley is an excellent one that I have been calling for some time and it has been excellently modelled by the schools in Greystones and other schools all around the country. “Through our smart phones, we have the world at our fingertips and that brings positive things, but also negative things. Smart phones facilitate information and freedom of expression, but also misinformation and sometimes damaging and corrosive lies. How are children to discern the difference? This process will facilitate a conversation and awareness that all is not good when it comes to smartphones – that maturity and care is needed in their use.“There are other points to consider too. The Netherlands has introduced a ban on phones, tablets and smartwatches in all classrooms from 1st January 2024. The only permitted devices are those required for lessons, medical reasons or for people with disabilities. Their rationale is that devices are undermining concentration and are a distraction. “The Online Safety Commissioner is empowered to hold online services to account for “how they tackle the availability of some of the most serious forms of harmful online content”. I have written to the Online Safety Commissioner Education to ask to meet with me to explore the possibility of developing and introducing a pilot programme which would enlist more schools onto a No Smart Device Voluntary Code initiative.“Childhood is precious and all the more fleeting now. We have a duty as parents, guardians, teachers and legislators to provide as safe a space as we can for children. “Not allowing them to have mobile phones or smart devices while at least in primary school is one thing we can do – but we need buy-in from all and today’s Memo should be a solid starting point to start working towards that.”