Smartphone ban for kids is worth considering

Home UK News Smartphone ban for kids is worth considering
Smartphone ban for kids is worth considering

Nathan Standley,Vanessa Clarke

BBC / Ann Gannon Secondary school pupil Jasper, 15BBC / Ann Gannon

Schoolboy Jasper says having social media is important for ‘finding people you can connect with’

The next government should consider proposals to ban smartphones for under-16s within its first year, a committee of MPs has said.

The Education Select Committee report outlined some of the “serious dangers” posed to children online.

Government guidance to bar phone use in schools in England earlier this year prompted a debate on how much screen time children should be having.

But children’s charity the NSPCC said that so far, the voices of the young people themselves had been “glaringly absent” from it.

The report, published on Saturday, said the risks of increased screen time for children and young people significantly outweighed its benefits.

Committee chairman Robin Walker said its inquiry had heard “shocking statistics on the extent of the damage being done to under-18s”.

The report found there had been a significant rise in screen time in recent years, with one in four children now using their phone in a manner resembling behavioural addiction.

The report said almost all children own a phone by the age of 12, and that 79% had encountered violent pornography before the age of 18.

It said the Online Safety Act, which puts responsibility on social media firms to protect children from some legal – but harmful – material, would provide some protection, but not until the law was fully implemented in 2026.

The committee says that without urgent action, more children could be put in harm’s way.

It recommended the next government should work with the regulator, Ofcom, to consult on additional measures, including the possibility of a total ban on smartphones for under-16s or having parental controls installed as a default.

It also says incoming ministers should try to encourage mobile-phone companies to produce specific children’s phones, which can be used to maintain contact through calls, texts and GPS location but cannot access the internet.

Richard Collard, associate head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC children’s charity, said a “blanket ban” on smartphones and social media for under-16s would be a “blunt instrument”.

“Young people tell us how access to technology can improve their lives, but they are fed up of having to protect themselves,” he added.

‘I don’t know what I would have done without it’

In Salford, 15-year-old Jasper, who most frequently uses apps such as WhatsApp and Pinterest, told the BBC there were pros and cons to life as a teenager online.

“Yes I find it difficult because drama (arguments, confrontation) starts easier, but having social media and having a phone, if used correctly, can be helpful for finding other people that you connect with,” he said.

“Without it, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”

Harry, 16, said he thought it would be more sensible to apply a ban to a younger age group, but admitted that teenagers spend “way too much” time on their phones.

In Glossop, Derbyshire, parents’ views on a potential ban were mixed.

Courtney Clarke, who has a 13-year-old daughter, said she hated her having a smartphone but liked to be able to contact her when she is walking to and from school or out with friends.

“If I took my daughter’s phone off her, I am taking away her social life, and that is not good, either”, she said, adding that her daughter did not have the same access to youth clubs that she did when she was young.

She said she would worry about her being bullied if she was forced to use a “brick” phone instead.

BBC / Vanessa Clarke Mum Courtney Clarke in GlossopBBC / Vanessa Clarke

Courtney Clarke said she would worry about destroying her daughter’s social life by taking away her phone

But Joanne Whaley said she had already gone through bad experiences with her 12-year-old son’s smartphone.

“If I could change it, I would never have let him have one,” she said.

“I would have let him have the old Nokias that we used to have so he could tell me where he is, but the internet being so available has been a disaster.”

Mum Clare Fernyhough, who helped set up Smartphone Free Childhood, a grassroots organisation of thousands of parents from around the country, said she welcomed the committee’s latest recommendations.

“While we wait for the [Online Safety Act] to be implemented, a whole generation of children are being deprived of the childhood they deserve by a handful of companies in Silicon Valley who have repeatedly shown that they are putting profits before child safety,” she said.

“One of society’s most important roles is to protect children from harm, and any government that pledges to prioritise this issue will get our vote.”

In February, the government issued new guidance for schools to restrict phone use, intended to “reset the social norm” of keeping phones out of the classroom.

At the time, Labour said it was “open-minded” about banning social media for under-16s, after its leader, Keir Starmer, met Esther Ghey when she visited Parliament to campaign after the death of her daughter, Brianna.

Brianna’s mum: Ban under-16s from social media on phones

Commenting on the committee’s report, Lib Dem education spokesperson Munira Wilson called for an independent children’s online safety advocate “to protect our children’s interests”.

She said it was “clear that both the government and social-media companies must do more” to protect children online.

BBC News contacted the Conservative and Labour parties for comment on the committee’s latest recommendations, but has not yet heard back.

The Green Party declined to comment.

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the committee’s report raised “very valid concerns” about the dangers of excessive screen time.

But he said those concerns risked being undermined by the threat of legally banning phones in schools.

“Rather than offering flexibility, a statutory ban would seemingly leave schools with only one option – to confiscate all phones at the start of the day and return them at the end,” he said.

“While this may work for some schools, others just will not have the time and resources to manage such a process.”

Sarah Hannafin, head of policy at the National Association of Head Teachers, said schools were best placed to develop their own mobile-phone policies, adding that it was “critical” that children can develop “positive relationships with technology”.

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