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One of the scourges of the modern world, along with reality TV shows, fizzy drinks and Chelsea tractors, is the mobile phone. I find it utterly ironic that it was initially invented to aid communication.
To AID communication! Ha.
If there’s anything that has had a worse effect on the family unit, conversation, relationships and wellbeing than the mobile phone, I don’t know what it is.
Some secondary schools have taken the brave step of banning mobile phones and other digital devices during school hours, and you would think that the teachers had proposed a ban on breathing, judging by a few of the children’s reactions. Apparently, it means they won’t be able to do their homework, contact their parents if they’ve forgotten kit etc, look up information, or (oh horror) message their friends. Yes, those friends they’ll see in the lunch hall later, but be too busy texting to speak to…
That’s when I start feeling a wave of scorn and an involuntary “In MY day…” bubbling up from inside my chest. My kids look sceptical and almost impressed when I tell them that there was no such thing as a mobile phone when I was a teenager. I imagine they would give me the same look if I said I’d been stranded on a desert island for 3 years and survived by licking dew off the rocks, and snatching seagulls out of the sky with my bare hands.
I explain how important it was that I always kept a 10p piece in my pocket for the phone. (Even the 10p coins were different then too. At this point, my kids are looking at me like I’m discussing half-crowns and shillings).
When I think back, I find it amazing that we were even let out of our parents’ sight. There was literally no way of contacting them once you were out of earshot of your home. So much of life had to be based on trust. They couldn’t check on us. We couldn’t contact them.
It might sound primitive now, but of course there were benefits too. Once we were home, we were disconnected from all things ‘school’. Now, children cannot get away from other people. They are always contactable by text or on social media. They can be bullied, harassed and humiliated at the touch of a button. They are cursed by an insatiable urge to check their messages, to see how many likes their photo got, how many views their YouTube channel received. There is an anxious hunger to keep up – a terrible fear that life will leave them behind if they don’t keep up.
It’s surely much more important now than ever before, that children play sports, play an instrument, join a choir or a dance school – that they can be involved in something physical and real, OUTSIDE of the nebulous and vaguely threatening virtual world. Young children who have been born with an iPad in one hand and a smartphone in the other, have been found to have brain activity similar to that of a cocaine addict. They find it hard to make connections, to concentrate, to relate to others.
One of my friends says she’s heard of Reception children, given books for the first time, who have tried SWIPING the text to move it or to enlarge it. Shocking.
I’ve heard of schools who have had to insist that parents don’t stand in the playground at home time on their phones, because it’s too heartbreaking to see little children running to their parents to show them their artwork or achievement certificates, only to be shushed while the parents start walking away, still glued to their phones.
I realise I sound preachy and judgemental, when the fact is, I’m guilty of overusing my phone myself. I resisted getting a smartphone LOOOONG after most normal people had one, because I didn’t want to fall into the trap of wasting time and not living my life to the full. There is such a fine line between taking advantage of the technology available, and becoming its slave.
Neither of my children have smartphones. And I’m going to keep it that way for as long as I possibly can.
Funnily enough, neither of them are bothered by it. They can’t really miss what they don’t know. They have so much else to fill their lives – there’s so much music to be made, so many dances to perform, books to read, works of art to be created – they don’t have time to waste in a bottomless world that DOESN’T REALLY EXIST.
I heard from a reliable source that every child in my son’s class has a smartphone of some kind. Until the school recently introduced a digital detox, the children all sat in a row at break times and lunch times, staring down at their screens. My son didn’t have a screen to stare at, so he sat on the end of the row…making things out of origami. Birds, boxes, hats, animals of all shapes and sizes… He surprised and delighted his classmates with his creations.
It’s funny to see him slipping a pack of origami paper into his school bag some mornings, instead of a smartphone. I just hope that when he forgets his PE kit, he can fashion an origami carrier pigeon so lifelike that it can bring me a message to let me know…