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Is a Smartphone Free Childhood the answer to our nation’s smartphone addiction? I’d say no.

By Mark Saxby – Positive Social

Mark Saxby - Positive Social

When two Surrey mums made it big with their campaign to stop children and smartphones mixing, the UK’s media got very excited about it. Not that it was a new idea.

One of my friends had already agreed a smartphone-free arrangement among a group ofparents in their Scottish primary school. They had all decided they would hold off giving their children devices. Wonderful.

Inspired, I tried the same thing in my daughter’s primary school. The Year 5 dads were all in a WhatsApp group. I suggested us all holding off on smartphones until our children went to secondary school. I was largely met by silence except for one dad who said he and his wife had already given their nine-year-old boy his brother’s old smartphone and they were confident he’d be sensible.

There lies the problem – while some parents, like the Surrey mums and my Scottish friend, recognise their children shouldn’t be on social media at such a young age, many other parentseither just don’t understand the dangers or have the capacity in their lives to even consider them.

Some children will have smartphones and others won’t. And then the well-meaning parents will face immense pressure to buckle. As one mum said: “My son will be a social pariah if he doesn’t have a phone.”

I’m not saying that the campaign for a Smartphone Free Childhood is a waste of time. For starters, it’s helped many parents see there is another way. And the more children without a smartphone, the better. But I believe the answer is in education, not a ban.

The majority of time spent on phones by young people is spent using social media. Our charity, Positive Social, has run sessions with thousands of young people in classrooms across the country. We don’t tell the students to come off social media. Instead, we help them understand that social media is addictive; that misuse could damage their now and their future; and that they can enjoy life more if they spend less time on their phones.

Ultimately, we give them the permission to make a choice – to have a different relationship with social media and their phones.

And they make amazing commitments to change. They say they’ll:

• Leave WhatsApp groups where they’re bullying other children.

• Delete the Instagram app because it’s making them sad.

• Spend more time with their parents because they’re more important.

• Leave TikTok because it’s washing their mind.

• Stop taking their phone to bed with them.

We find that young people don’t want to be on social media as much as they are. They’ve just been allowed by their parents to spend time on their phones without boundaries. Many of them confess they just don’t feel good when spending an excessive amount of time on social media.

Some schools we visit report a drop in social media issues. Other schools run our free follow-up Social Ambassadors programme so social media stays on the agenda.

Of course, there are some children who won’t follow through on their commitments. Or they’ll forget about them. Or they just won’t be able to resist the pull of social media. After all, doctors liken our addiction to it as that suffered by crack cocaine users. But the childrenwill never forget our sessions – or that there’s a different way of looking at social media.

Will they ever go smartphone free? I doubt it. If us adults can’t manage it, then why should we expect our children to. But it’s definitely time to empower our children to choose a different type of relationship with social media and their phones.

Mark Saxby is one of the founders of the Positive Social charity, a national organisation which runs interactive classroom sessions in primary and secondary schools. You can find out more at https://positivesocial.org.uk/

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