‘Our kitchen is the center of a growing movement of parents.’

Feb 28, 2024 | News

This Good News tells the story of how a group of parents and Daisy accidentally started a grassroots campaign to protect children from smartphones.

Daisy said: I started a movement three weeks ago by accident.

All of it began with a conversation I had with my friend Clare. We were both frustrated by the situation we found ourselves in. As mothers of children who are on the cusp of the smartphone age, we have to decide whether we want to expose our kids to pornography, bullying, grooming, and the anxiety-producing machine that is social networking or alienate them from their peers.

By the age of 12, 97% of British children own a smartphone. There was no research on the impact of smartphones when children first started using them only 15 years ago. There is now a lot of research, and the results are overwhelming. The first generation of children who received a smartphone as a child are now adults. For every year younger, their mental illness rate increases. The technology hasn’t kept up with the regulations, so it’s parents who are suffering.

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Clare and myself decided to create a WhatsApp group in order to support each other as we walked the lonely road to smartphone refusal for our children. We called it Parents United for a Smartphone Free Childhood and for two days, it was mostly just us two.

I went to sleep after a conversation at my children’s school in which a parent said that they hadn’t received their eight-year old one yet because the mother hadn’t asked. I then posted about our group on Instagram, in a fit maternal fervour. When I woke in the morning, our group had reached the limit of 1,023 WhatsApp users. We started a new one which was also full. We were far from alone. There were thousands of other parents who felt the exact same way – from paediatricians to CEOs, to taxi drivers to teachers – and they all wanted to talk, share, and offer support to each other.

In a bizarre twist to my life, our kitchen in sleepy Suffolk became the hub of a booming movement of parents. Clare, Joe, and I spent the last two weeks trying to harness this momentum in between our usual juggle between work and kids.

Daisy Greenwell, her husband Joe and Clary Fernyhough, who together spearheaded Parents United For a Smartphone-Free Childhood

We encouraged people to create their own regional WhatsApp groups. In front of our eyes, 50 groups sprang into existence across the country. From Surrey to Scotland, Norfolk to Wales. We suggested that people create their own school-specific group, as the power to eliminate peer pressure lies with your own class and school.

Three weeks later, there are thousands of local school groups in each county in the UK that have formed a Smartphone Free Childhood WhatsApp group. Hampshire, for instance, has over 1,000 parents and 70 schools groups who are using our toolkits to begin a dialogue with the headteachers.

This is a controversial issue that can be triggering for parents who already have their children’s smartphones. We hear a lot of parents say that they want their child to be safe on the way to and from school. But a retro phone, with its calls and texts, does the same thing without the added dangers. We want parents to be able to have these discussions without judgement, awkwardness or division. To help them, we have created toolkits written by experts who have helped bring people together to discuss contentious issues.

Over time, we’ve learned to limit alcohol and smoking to certain groups of people. We’ve only had smartphones for 15 years. Now that we know the impact, we must act. We used to marvel at how cigarette companies marketed their products as being healthy. People will look back and wonder why smartphones weren’t shielded from children.

We want to empower the parents to come together and change the standard. We believe that childhood is too short to be spent on a smartphone.

Images: Alastair Bartlett / Tilt Shift Creative

To find out more visit smartphonefreechildhood.co.uk/ and check out @smartphonefreechildhood on Instagram.


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