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Banning phones in schools?

Westonbirt School Headmistress Natasha Dangerfield on supporting children to negotiate the online world

BBC News has been leading this weekend with the headline 'Ban Phones In Schools, Says Minister Nick Gibb'. A number of articles have since followed, from both schools, academies and spokespeople for the industry, or education. The teenager and his or her phone is not a new phenomenon and all of us as parents and educators are more used to the presence of phones than not, despite many of us not growing up with this technology ourselves.

We know what the term ‘banning’ can effect, and more often than not, a ban only leads to furtive use of a technology which already sits well within the shadows and this is not helpful.  Mobile technology is our children’s tech, it is here to stay and will inevitably continue to evolve to the point that we will see less and less hand control and more intuitive behaviours linking to the control of simple functions.  However, it remains an issue and this is largely for those children and indeed adults, young and a little older, who spend too much time glued to the screen waiting for responses from, or feeding into social media. 

I am not sure we set the best example. There are many of us who still text their children during school hours; hours known to be ‘non phone hours’ at Westonbirt, bypassing the use of messaging in the more traditional sense because it is easier and quicker. We are all guilty ourselves of twittering, or utilising facebook, some of us have even broken teen ground and headed to Instagram to show everyone what beauty our lives bring. Perhaps some of us even find ourselves caught in the ‘comparative’ trap; looking at others’ lives and wondering why ours are not quite as good. We should all ask ourselves if we are a role model for positive phone use?

Social media and mobile technology have enormous benefits and this is the reason we encourage controlled use of iPads in lesson time and why we limit use and not ban it, particularly with our boarders. We have issued our hours of use to day parents, and I would continue to encourage all parents to instigate a modicum of control at home; ensuring that on a regular basis, you sit and look through controls set, review times of use and ensure that you are comfortable with what is being sent and received on your child’s phone.  This should be an amicable exchange with your child, and if it is not, you need to question why it cannot be. They will automatically be defensive, they will want to hide a side of their life from you which is their personal communications with their friends, in the same way you may have been furious as one of your parents overheard a private conversation with your friend on the older phones whose cable would barely stretch behind the sitting room door! However, a balance can be found and perhaps just ask to see some of the pictures they are sending or receiving – engage with them and positively encourage them to be technically savvy; safe and aware and not ignorant or naïve. Open a conversation which questions if they know all those ‘liking’ posts, or in their contacts list.

A balance of timed use, open conversation about content and positive role modelling will help children use phones more impactfully, and potentially with less damage to their mental health which sadly is the significantly negative effect of over immersion. A couple of years ago the government suggested the ‘5-a-day’ approach and this was not so foolish – encouraging a healthy approach, but with the addition of activity which focussed well away from technology.  Nick Gibb would do well to think on how to develop this idea and continue to support schools and families with being mindful, creative, active and giving with their time; I hope we as Westonbirt families do too.

Twitter @NatashaDangers