View from an academy: Be smart and don’t get a smartphone

PUBLISHED: 08:30 23 March 2019

Bobby Moore Academy

I remember getting my first mobile phone. I commuted a distance to school.

Epping is at the furthest outpost of the Central line and, commuting for over an hour in each direction to school, my parents bought me the phone for one reason: safety.

Reflecting on this last week, now as a headteacher, it struck me that mobile phones may well have once been an instrument of security but that now, the opposite may be true.

It is arguable that smartphones are actually making the world more dangerous for our children. Today’s mobile phones are like Pandora’s box. Unrestricted internet access on smartphones means that each day, our children are at risk. They are at risk of being exposed to harmful sites and graphic images, to cyber-bullying, to millions of anonymous people who can contact them at will from accounts that do not have to be genuine. Handing a smartphone to a child in this day and age feels akin to allowing them into a room full of strangers, completely unsupervised.

When I got my first mobile phone, I was 14, and the only person who ever called it was my mum. Of course, this was long, long ago, in an age before wireless internet and the advent of the smartphone. Now, a £10 data bundle can purchase limitless WhatsApp messages and unrestricted access to a plethora of messaging services. The question I ask myself is whether we can really see this as progress?

A couple of years ago, a study conducted at The University of Texas at Austin attempted to find out how well people can complete tasks when they have their smartphones nearby. Participants were randomly told to place their smartphones either on the desk face down, in their pocket or personal bag, or in another room. The findings were remarkable. The researchers found those with their phones in another room scored much higher than those with their phones on the desk, and they also bettered those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I know what I’ll be advising henceforth: if you want your children to be safe and smart, don’t buy a smartphone.

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