Parents and teachers are realising the damage social media can do to young children, so now we have a strict new code.
s the principal of St Patrick’s national School in Greystones, County Wicklow, I have witnessed a growing concern among parents and teachers. The levels of anxiety among our young children in primary schools have been steadily rising with easy access to online content and smartphones becoming a real threat to childhood. We felt we needed to take action, prompting all eight primary schools in the Greystones and Delgany area to jointly establish the It Takes A Village initiative, born out of a deep-rooted commitment to ensure the wellbeing of our children.
The process began with a realisation – childhood seems to be getting shorter and shorter. Children as young as nine years old were requesting smartphones and feeling pressure from other children to have access to apps and be constantly online. It was evident that these children were not emotionally ready to navigate the complexities of these devices and the digital world. The anxieties arising from early exposure to adult content online were becoming palpable and, as a community, we knew we had to act.
Our aim was clear: we wanted to take the pressure off parents who often felt torn between their children’s desires to be online and the potential risks posed by unrestricted smartphone access. With the “no smartphone voluntary code”, a community-wide opt-in pact to withhold smartphones from children – at home, in school, everywhere – until they enter secondary school (generally aged 12), we wanted to ensure that children’s innocence and emotional wellbeing are preserved.
This is a problem being faced by children, parents and teachers around the world. Now the UN has recommended that smartphones be banned from schools to tackle classroom disruption, improve learning and help protect children from cyberbullying. But the Unesco Global Education Monitoring report on technology and education also emphasises the need for countries to come up with their own standards and regulations in terms of children’s data privacy and wellbeing. The report shows that children can take 20 minutes to concentrate once disturbed by a notification on their phone. It cites research from the UK showing that banning mobile phones from schools improves learning, especially among low-performing students.
It is essential to clarify that our It Takes A Village initiative and the “no smartphone voluntary code” are not anti-technology stances. We recognise that technology plays an integral role in our lives and education. Moreover, we do not seek to deny children the opportunity to own a phone entirely. Instead, our intention is to ensure they are adequately prepared and emotionally equipped to handle the responsibilities that come with owning a smartphone when they graduate to secondary level school. However, we are mindful of the potential dangers associated with early access to apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok and others that may expose children to harmful content or peer pressures.
The decision of parents’ associations from all eight primary schools in Greystones to embrace the “no smartphone voluntary code” is a demonstration of collective responsibility. By taking joint action, we aim to create a sense of critical mass that will make it easier for parents to adopt the code and protect their children from potential harm.
The initiative is not just about enforcing a code; it is about building a strong community of services that will assist children, families and teachers in addressing anxiety-related challenges. We have a plan to introduce play therapists in all our primary schools, to offer easy access to professional support and early intervention to ensure optimal mental health in our children. We have taken this plan to the senior levels of government in Ireland and have briefed ministers on the issues and the solutions we are putting forward.
The commitment of the government to fund our initiative as a pilot project, with the prospect of rolling it out to other communities across Ireland, signifies a shared vision for the wellbeing of our nation’s children and the realisation that we have a problem. We do not claim to have all the answers; however, we can see from the high levels of interest across the globe that this is a universal problem that needs to be addressed.
This is not simply about banning devices; we want to foster a nurturing environment for our children to thrive. By taking this united stand, we hope to empower parents, teachers and children to navigate the digital world with mindfulness and resilience. Together, we can build a community where the wellbeing of young children remains at the heart of our efforts, ensuring that they grow into emotionally healthy, well adjusted individuals ready to embrace the challenges of the future.News TIOB News