LUCY CARNE
LUCY CARNE

Banning phones from kids reeks of parental hypocrisy

TRAPPED in Ikea recently, on my annual crusade for tea light candles, elderflower cordial and the will to live, one thing was clear: we are a nation of 'nomophobes'.

Looking around the food hall, at almost every table were people glued to their mobile phones as they hunched over plates of meatballs and lingonberry jam.

There was an almost eerie silence as everyone ignored each other and scrolled (not the cinnamon version).

The war is over, people. We're lying to ourselves if we think we can wean off screens. We are addicted to our mobiles.

So the Queensland government's proposed attempt to ban 'screenagers' from their phones at school seems utterly futile - and hypocritical.

How is that we can tell students to lock away their phones for the day, while we adults waste hours sucked into Instagram story vacuums, Facebook creeping and Twitter tweet spats?

 

How is that we can tell them that they will learn better without phones when we ourselves have taught them how to be socially distracted and absent minded with our constant use of them?

This issue of parental phone hypocrisy has reached the point that one British school has erected signs on their front gate that say: "Greet your child with a smile not a mobile".

The Queensland government’s attempt to ban ‘screenagers’ from their phones at school seems utterly futile — and hypocritical. Picture: iStock
The Queensland government’s attempt to ban ‘screenagers’ from their phones at school seems utterly futile — and hypocritical. Picture: iStock

A typical evening family scene now features parents unable to ignore the ting of a message and constantly checking emails. Our children - by pure primal nature - follow suit.

If you've seen a two year old open and close apps on an iPad with finger-flicking dexterity, you know the feeling: a weird mix of astonishment, pride and terror. And guilt, for we are to blame.

Surely this misuse and overuse of technology at home has a far greater impact than whether phones are allowed at school.

But to attempt to 'cure' a society-wide dilemma by targeting teens and outlawing mobiles in schools seems pointless and impossible to police.

Who are we kidding? When have teenagers ever respected patronising blanket bans?

 

When we tell them drinking is bad, as we reach for another stubbie? The rising rates of underage binge drinkers being hospitalised in Queensland tell us that approach failed.

When I was in Grade 11 on exchange to a high school in France, the local 16 and 17-year-old students would sip a small beer at the pub at lunch as they perused exam notes.

What did a group of Queensland teens do when presented with this scenario? Tequila, bien sur.

Children have learned the power of screens from watching adults. Picture: iStock
Children have learned the power of screens from watching adults. Picture: iStock

Our hysterical embrace of sudden French freedoms got to the point that our supervising teacher would lap the centre of town, hanging out the car window screaming "defence de fumer" if he spotted us smoking.

When our French host siblings then came to Brisbane, we exposed them to the local tradition of a high school party.

To us, it was the usual affair - a couple of hundred teens invading a suburban garden clutching soft drink bottles filled with Bundy Rum, bodies in bushes, projectile vomiting, an inevitable fist fight and the police called while we all legged it to the nearest 7-11 to get taxis and make it home before curfew.

To the Frenchies, it was disgraceful.

They had been raised from a young age to respect and enjoy alcohol as a normal complement to a meal. To them, binge drinking was appalling.

Perhaps it's time we adopted a more French attitude. With nine out of 10 Aussie teens now owning a mobile, surely a critical yet positive approach to smartphones may prove more valuable than locking away phoneless students in towers.

The government recently announced a longitudinal study into the effects of digital technology on children. Picture: iStock
The government recently announced a longitudinal study into the effects of digital technology on children. Picture: iStock

The Federal Government last month announced a $34.9 million "world first" longitudinal study at the Queensland University of Technology into the effects of digital technology on children.

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child will be led by QUT education Professor Susan Danby and will explore areas including the impacts of mobiles on kids.

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Prof Danby says she understands the concerns, but adds that she has seen mobiles used creatively in schools by students photographing algorithms or to Facetime other students about homework.

"By focusing only on the negatives, we miss some of the opportunities to use them for positive learning," she says.

Maybe this is the solution - treating mobiles as necessary and powerful tools of learning.

Rather than dread digital bombardment, we should embrace it and encourage the creative use of technology in the classroom.

Rather than castrophise our reliance on phones, we should be hopeful, even excited, about the advancements in education they can trigger.

Because a quick scan of society shows we're not going to give them up any time soon.

 

Lucy Carne is editor of Rendezview.com.au



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