Kids hooked on gadgets... and parents can’t ignore warnings

Isn’t it high time that, given the fact that so many parents remain steadfastly oblivious to the risks to children posed by over-use of tech, that the Department of Education took a strong role in regulating the use of mobile phones in schools? So says Ailin Quinlan in her weekly column
Kids hooked on gadgets... and parents can’t ignore warnings

DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION: Áilin Quinlan says banning smartphones from classrooms is one way of clamping down on their use.

PARENTING has never been easy, but in some ways the current generation of mums and dads have a harder road than at any previous time in the history of parenting.

This crossed my mind following a conversation with the mother of a young boy in primary school, about the campaign being waged by her young son to get a smartphone.

He’s in sixth class, and already has a tablet.

She and her husband are on the ball about the hazards of tech, and do their best to create sensible boundaries about their son’s use of it.

All the same, she told me, she caught him sneaking the tablet upstairs one night so that he could access it while his parents thought he was asleep.

On another occasion her lad had some friends over — to play football as she thought. However, noticing the lack of shouting and running around, she investigated, and discovered the lot of them huddled together in a part of the garden where she couldn’t see them — playing games on their tech devices.

Then there was the sleepover for the boy and his friends in a tent in the back garden — although devices were banned from this exciting event, when she went out to check on her son and his guests, the woman noticed a glow in the tent. She investigated and found them using a number of devices.

She confiscated the devices, but later discovered that one of the boys, none of whom were more than 11 or 12 years old, apparently had a SECOND device hidden away in his backpack.

According to her son, this lad sat up in the tent the entire night talking to nobody while he Snapchatted about the sleepover he most definitely wasn’t participating in.

Now how sad is that?

This mum also discovered that her son is being messaged on his tablet late into the night by young friends who are apparently allowed unrestricted access to their devices by their parents.

It’s truly amazing how many parents seem to remain conveniently oblivious to increasing reports that over-exposure to tech can have worrying consequences for children in terms of poor social skills, lack of exercise and fresh air, lack of sleep and so on.

However now there is hard, Irish-based evidence about all of this, and from none other than the Economic and Social Research Unit, which revealed that a shocking 40% of children in this country own a mobile phone by the age of nine!

The new research from the ESRI showed that Irish children who own a phone at the age of nine are weaker at reading and maths at the age of 13 than their peers.

This study, on children’s academic development, is the first of its kind in this country. It looked at around 8,500 children and found that students who have a phone from the age of nine struggle academically compared to classmates who don’t have one.

The reason?

Children who have mobile phones at this young age have their learning abilities eroded by sleep deprivation, according to the government funded study, Later is Better — Mobile Phone Ownership and Child Academic Development.

But there’s more.

According to Professor Selina McCoy of the ESRI, the distraction offered by the devices is also altering memory patterns.

She said that the study of children from similar socio-economic backgrounds who had phones and those who had not, showed that mobile phone users of this age group were simply not faring as well in reading and maths.

This suggested, she warned, that distraction and altered memory patterns, as well as the short-term gratification offered by mobile phone use, all had an impact on the children’s learning.

Isn’t it high time that, given the fact that so many parents remain steadfastly oblivious to the risks to children posed by over-use of tech, that the Department of Education took a strong role in regulating the use of mobile phones in schools?

I’m 100% with Terry O Sullivan, who last year became the first teacher in the country to enforce an all-out ban on smart devices in schools.

Formerly the principal of Blennerville National School in Kerry, and now the director of Tralee Education Centre, O’Sullivan says he believes no child should ever be allowed a smartphone in secondary school.

Many schools are now implementing their own regulations in this area, but I believe the Department of Education needs to row in here and support them by bringing an outright ban on pupils bringing mobile phones or any tech devices to school.

And don’t talk to me about domestic emergencies and how will we reach our children if something happens? Every school has a phone.

This ESRI report is the first piece of evidence-based research in Ireland to show that mobile phone usage is having a negative effect on our children’s academic progress.

Eventually, the excuse that you allowed your children unrestricted access to tech because you, em, didn’t know any better, is going to ring very hollow.

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