Digital Wellbeing by Mrs. Smith

Posted on: 11/01/2019

At the end of November,  Mr. Crehan, Mr. Lewis and I attended a conference at Radley College in Oxford arranged by the Independent Schools Council on Digital Strategy. This is an annual conference which brings together school leaders to discuss and share good practice from around the world on how we are preparing tomorrow’s leaders, your children, for this new era of digital transformation.

The day was a mix of key speakers, workshops and networking opportunities. We all attended a variety of workshops and one of the workshops I attended struck a chord with me: ‘Digital Wellbeing’. We all know that mental health and wellbeing is hugely topical at the moment, but are we all playing our part in looking after our ‘Digital Wellbeing’?

Technology is superb and we cannot deny that we are in a very exciting era where digital technology plays a big part in all our lives, but it is crucial that we employ strategies to ensure we do look after our digital wellbeing and that of our children.

Over the festive period I am sure that many of the children received digital items; games, tablets, smart phones….and perhaps parents did too.

I did chuckle when I read on Saturday 29th December an article in Schools Week, in which Damien Hinds our Education Secretary has recommended that ‘pupils should ditch gadgets and climb trees’ by schools introducing an activity passport for all school pupils - see link below.

I am somewhat saddened that yet again the government seem to be dictating to schools about the job we should be doing -  surely many of the activities on these passports are part of normal family living and I am delighted that many of them also appear on our St. Helen’s College curriculum!

However, digital wellbeing is a very serious aspect of healthy living and I was delighted to have been discussing this with Mrs. Smith. One of her friends has recently developed a website for parents, which I think you will all be very interested in reading about and perhaps you will take action too.

I shall now hand over to Mrs Smith…..


A friend of mine has co-developed a website called ‘Sign4Year9’ for parents who want to resist the pressure to let their child have a smart phone before they are emotionally mature enough to handle social media and unrestricted internet access. The idea is based on research highlighting the dangers of children having access to smart phones too young, including lack of face-to-face conversation, declining amounts of time spent outdoors and/or with family and extended family, and the perils of social media and internet access for our children’s mental health. I am sharing it in the hope that St. Helen’s College parents and staff will want to sign (and share) the pledge, which is designed mainly to give parents support in resisting pressure from their children to get a smart phone too soon. It is important to note that the pledge only relates to smart phones. Allowing your child a ‘normal’, ‘unsmart’ phone, without internet/social media access, before their teenage years would still be ok!

The Sign4Year9 movement is in its infancy, so this is a chance to be there at the start of something which will hopefully go nationwide and which has already been shared internationally. If this is an idea which speaks to you, and you would like to sign up, please visit Sign4Year9 to add your name to the growing number making the pledge. Read on to find out why I believe it is so important that you do!

Earlier this year, a study carried out by MusicMagpie and published in the Independent found that a quarter of children under the age of 6 own a smart phone. It also found that 8 in 10 parents do not limit the amount of time children spend on their phones, and that 75% of parents do not disable the data function so that their children are able to use these smart phones to access the internet and social media apps freely over wifi networks and through mobile data. A staggering two thirds of parents admitted that they do not put a cap on their child’s monthly smart phone spend.1

As a parent of older teenagers, these statistics were shocking to me. However, as an aunt to children aged 10, 8, 4, 3 and 1, I suspect they probably sound about right to parents of very young children, who are used to seeing their children operate smart phones and who are often amazed and impressed at their children’s ability to operate technical devices at such a young age.

Smart phones, ipads and laptops weren’t widely used by children 15 years ago – the ‘baby phone’ phenomenon has been a growing area over the last 10 years in particular. Smart phone technology hit the mainstream for children just before my two sons started at their senior school and my husband and I bought them each a smart phone when they entered Year 7. We believed that having a phone was all but essential from the beginning of secondary school, as our sons would be travelling to/from school independently for the first time. Being able to communicate with them whenever I wanted was also a huge comfort to me, as a parent, as they began a new chapter in their lives. It is humbling now to hear my sons say that they wish we had delayed them getting smart phones for a year or two. It is also obvious to me, with hindsight, that they would have been perfectly safe and healthy - indeed, possibly safer and healthier – with ‘unsmart’ phones at age 11 and 12. Their school has never limited the use of smart phones at break or lunch times and my boys particularly bemoan the fact that, on any given day, many of their friends chose not to play football at break time because they were too busy on their phones. The school is now undertaking a consultation with parents, pupils and staff on the use of smart phones and is considering an ‘out of sight’ policy for phones in school, which has my wholehearted support, not least because, while not directly affected, my sons have been aware throughout their teenage years of various cases of children upset by social media activity both in and out of school. I believe that children should be unable to access social media during their ‘working’ day at school, to enable them to concentrate on developing face-to-face friendships, to indulge in healthy, active break times, and to help them to focus on study in their primary place of study - school!

There is a growing movement of parents who are concerned about the effects of children being given smart phones too young. Although these phones are incredible, useful pieces of technology with many advantages, research has shown that they can have some very detrimental effects on children. In particular, the following effects are now being recognised by parents and researchers:

  1. Smart phones can alter the parent-child relationship as children become more dependent on their smart phone and the immediate (although not always correct) answers it provides to their questions.
  2. According to more than one study2, smart phones, especially when permitted in the bedroom, can cause later bedtimes, lack of sleep and fatigue. These factors may contribute to lack of concentration, reduced physical co-ordination and lower attainment at school, as well as reduced ability to cope, emotionally, with the demands of life.
  3. Ready access to smart phones can hinder a child’s creativity and imagination. Exciting, colourful games requiring short attention bursts may slow children’s sensory and motor development.
  4. According to a leading child psychotherapist, published in the Daily Telegraph3, the ubiquity of smart phones, broadband and social media are contributing negatively to the power and pace of mental health issues in children and teenagers, including eating disorders and teen suicide rates.
  5. The fast-paced nature of interactions on social media, in particular, do not allow children the time and space to reflect on the impact of their words and actions. Reflection, self-evaluation, self-limitation, listening skills, tolerance and empathy are qualities that should be embedded in our children as they grow; if opportunities for them to be embedded are lost, these qualities may not be there in the adults of tomorrow. What sort of a world will we be living in then?
  6. Researchers have found that smart phones can be detrimental to a child’s socio-economic development4. According to these findings, the amount of time children spend on smart phones and similar devices could impair the development of the skills needed for learning maths and science.
  7. Smart phone use can be addictive5. Children who become dependent upon, or addicted to, smart phones are likely to experience problems caused by this addiction during their teenage years and in later life, including the inability to form healthy, functioning relationships with family and friends. This phenomenon is becoming known as ‘technoference’, as technology use interferes with everyday living.
  8. The unrestricted (or minimally restricted) use of smart phones can cause obesity6, and it is unlikely that there is no relation between the increasing rates of child obesity and the increasing amounts of time spent by children on screens.
  9. Unrestricted internet access has many, many risks for children who may access inappropriate content. Obvious risks are that they may access, and become desensitised to, pornography and extreme violence. Risks less considered by parents are that children may access information about disease and death before they are emotionally ready to cope with this; they may access inappropriate ‘beauty’ and/or body images before or as their own bodies change in puberty, which may cause body dysmorphia, anorexia or other mental health issues; they may experience online bullying; they may connect with strangers who groom them sexually or radicalise them; they may discover inappropriate information about friends, relatives, neighbours or other people.

Technology has done a lot to make our lives easier and more efficient. But, as parents, it is our job to be concerned about the impact that devices like smart phones can have on our children, and our job to decide when our children are emotionally mature enough to handle the many threats of unrestricted internet and social media access. The growing body of research cannot and must not be ignored. Please, if you agree, sign the Sign4Year9 pledge to try to take back some ‘parent power’ and to help limit young children’s exposure to the potential negative effects of smart phones.

Finally, in addition to the studies cited below, you may also be interested in this piece, which found a direct correlation between smart phone use by parents and behavioural issues in children. We must all be mindful of our own smart phone use too.

Mrs. Smith