Does banning smartphones in schools improve children’s development?

According to our recent research, only one in 10 parents think phones should be used in the classroom. As the French ban on smartphones in schools comes into effect in September, we ask experts to evaluate the benefits to children’s development.

Dr Tamasine Preece

Head of Personal and Social Education
Expert Website

Sometimes, in conversations with young people who are experiencing upset or anxiety, they tell me that they have asked their parents or carers to confiscate their mobile phone; young people themselves are able to identify the negative impact that technology has on their ability to concentrate on their school work as well as on their ability to work through personal challenges, many of which are centred on the social aspects of school.

Smartphones offer known distractions such as gaming, updating social media and sending and receiving messages but also in terms of making the user readily available to provide support or distraction. The significance of peer approval is well known amongst young people, and the ease of access to camera phones and the subsequent ability to share media can lead young people to engage in activities which they very soon regret.

Banning smartphones would take the very great pressure off children to act impulsively and participate in behaviours, many of which have dire consequences in terms of reputation, school sanctions or destroying personal relationships, in which they would not, given the time and space to reflect, usually take part.

Rebecca Avery

Education Safeguarding Adviser, Kent County Council
Expert Website

Schools should make decisions about whether to ‘ban’ smartphones based on their pupils and local demographics. For some children, access to smartphones in school without any boundaries could distract them from learning, and in some situations, place them at risk of harm, such as online bullying.

However, a complete ban is likely to be unrealistic to achieve and may be very difficult for schools to enforce on a practical level. A complete ban could also put children at risk of harm and may affect learning; for example, if a child is a young carer, having access to smartphones to stay in touch with their family may be the only reason they feel able to attend school. Also, if children are using smartphones at school despite a ban and something goes wrong (such being sent an unkind message from a friend) they feel unable to report this to the school for fear of being punished.

To use smartphones effectively, children need education and guidance both at home and at school. Adults should role model when it is and is not okay to use them, and will need to enforce boundaries around safe, responsible and appropriate use.

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