A small Irish town created a voluntary, town-wide pact to combat the negative impact of smartphone use on children’s mental health. Eight months later, it appears to be working well.
Parents of tweens are likely to be familiar with the daily battle of when to give their child an smartphone. They will probably have to discuss it at breakfast, during the school run or before bedtime. After all, no child wants to be left behind if their friends all own one.
A town in Ireland has come together to find a solution.
In May, parents and teachers in Greystones in County Wicklow launched a ‘no-smartphone’ code for the entire town. Headteachers of the eight primary schools in the town wrote to parents to ask them to sign the ban. Parents were told that by coming together in mass, they could eliminate the peer pressure surrounding smartphone ownership.
Parents in Greystones can now choose to delay giving their children access to devices until they reach the age of 12 when they begin secondary school in Ireland.
Ministers in the Irish Cabinet have now approved new guidelines for the banning of smartphone use in schools, which were presented by Education Minister Norma Foley, on 7 November. The proposals would support parents in implementing bans on smartphones collectively, with the help of government. Ministers are also considering banning the sale of smartphones for all children in primary school.
According to the latest research, parents’ concerns about the dangers of smartphones is justified. In 2020, an academic study investigating smartphones, social media and youth mental health was reviewed. It found that in the past 10 years, mental distress among children and adolescents and the treatment of mental health conditions have increased.
Christina Capatina is a Greystones mother whose daughters are 11 and 9 years old. She said that she wants to prioritize face-to-face interaction over digital interactions for as long a possible. “Childhood gets shorter,” she said. “It is important that they are in a place where children can be happy, and enjoy being outside.
“Childhood is getting shorter. It’s really important for them to be in a place where they can be happy and enjoy being out, just being children”
The code is voluntary so some parents chose not to participate, but enough parents have signed up that it has become the norm. Harper refutes the claim that the code demonizes technology. We’re not anti-phones. “We’re simply asking them to wait until secondary school.”
Harper and her fellow parents are proud of what they have accomplished. Ministers are now working on guidelines to help communities follow in Greystones footsteps. She said, “It is nice to be an advocate in a positive manner.”
Main image: Ben Wicks