Q. Do children need smartphones when they start secondary school?
Vicky Bingham, headmistress at South Hampstead High School GDST, considers the benefits of ‘bringing back the brick’.
Parents sometimes tell me that they feel powerless in the face of the relentless encroachment of smartphones in their family lives. On the one hand mobile devices have changed our lives for the better in many ways. But it is the extent to which devices have taken over our lives that is a concern. Passengers not noticing someone needs a seat because they are too engrossed in Netflix. Entire families glued to their screens in restaurants. Young children handed devices to keep them ‘entertained’. Obsessive checking of messages in the middle of the night.
Indeed, when it comes to the question of how old a child should be before they get their first smartphone, it is vital to consider that during the early years of secondary school, many pastoral issues stem from pupils struggling with group chats and apps they are not yet mature enough to handle. It is one thing to get a phone to keep in touch, but quite another to get a smartphone.
Children are already coping with lots of new teachers, new subjects, new friends, a new building, new co-curricular clubs… Why throw another complex new factor into the mix? Instead of giving 11-year-olds our cast-off iPhones, perhaps we should (like the tech scion parents in Silicon Valley) resist setting them up on smartphones until they’re a little older. This is certainly something I will be raising with our intake of new families before they join us this September.
At South Hampstead High School GDST, we do everything we can to champion a healthy balance when it comes to digital devices. Phones aren’t allowed out during the school day, with the exception of our Sixth Formers, who are expected to set a good example – and they do. Our A-level Psychology students delivered a powerful assembly last term on why (and how) to reconsider our digital habits. They even developed their own ‘family phone pledge’ to help pupils and parents be more mindful of their screen time. Ultimately, we want to inform and empower our pupils to navigate an increasingly complex digital landscape – to help them make the right choices, in an ever-evolving future, with confidence, consideration and courage. Sometimes that’s easier when temptation is more than a swipe away. Delaying the start of your child’s smartphone school years until they are perhaps 14 or even 15 is a good move – let’s bring back the brick.