Don’t ban mobile phones from schools, make it illegal to buy apps under age

A VPN is an essential component of IT security, whether you’re just starting a business or are already up and running. Most business interactions and transactions happen online and VPN

Some time ago I was speaking to a grandmother about secondary schools. As someone who had already put children through secondary school, I was keen to hear her opinions, all the more so as we were trying to decide which school would be the best fit for our eldest daughter, Helen.

Ban mobile phones from schools, hammer hitting phone
Ban mobile phones from schools? That would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut, an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Granny, as I’ll call her, explained that a school further away from home was best. She said that whatever troubles children had during the school day could then be left at the school gate. If a child attends a school on their doorstep, they might see the same kids after school and any issues would rumble on.

It was well-meant advice and I saw the logic. Unfortunately, it completely overlooked the influence of mobile phones, something that would have been less of an issue when her offspring were younger.

Alas, as a family we have discovered this the hard way. It’s why I find myself questioning Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, when he announced he’d like schools in England to ban mobile phones altogether.

It’s a vacuous statement that probably sounds good to your average, ageing, “Country’s going to the dogs” Telegraph reader. Anyone involved in raising the current generation of children, the first generation of children to walk around with a super-computer in their school bag, will know it’s a daft thing to say (Fact: There’s more processing power in your mobile phone than there was in the computers used during the Apollo moon landings).

Let’s just pick apart what Williamson has said. Firstly, at secondary school some homework has to be done on apps. Youngsters also have to use apps like Satchel One to keep a record of the homework they have done.

Not, you understand, that this kind of thing has to be done during the school day. Nonetheless, if you ban mobile phones in schools, you would send a strange message to youngsters. It suggests that education and mobile phones do not mix when in the 21st Century, they do.

When well made, educational apps can be superb and add real value to a youngster’s learning. When I say superb, I mean they really can be excellent. The challenge is to persuade kids to use the good apps instead of rotting their brains while using the poor quality ones.

Second, and most importantly, in my experience the problem is not mobile phone use in school. It’s mobile phone use on the way to school, on the way home, at the evenings and weekends. Only once has a mobile phone caused a problem during my daughter’s time at secondary school and all that happened was that a phone started ringing during a lesson.

The real problem is easy access to unsuitable apps. Messaging apps in particular are a dreadful influence on youngsters. They allow kids to bully each other or be nasty well after school hours. You could send your kids to school in the middle of the Australian outback and if someone had a grudge against them, the bullying would continue. It’d simply take place on a group chat instead of to their face. This explains why Granny was mistaken.

The paradox is that some of what Williamson was very valid. He said mobile phones are “damaging.” The latest research from Ofsted into sexual harassment in schools shows he’s right. A staggering number of youngsters are using inappropriate language and sending inappropriate pictures using their phones.

Despite what you’ve read in the mainstream media which has focused solely on the impact on girls, vast numbers of girls and boys have been victims of this behaviour. Phones can be damaging, extremely damaging in fact and it’s this behaviour that is ruining the childhood of many youngsters.

How much of this is actually happening in school? The answer, I think, is very little. Most schools have a defacto ban on mobile phone use in place already.

Most of this poor behaviour is happening beyond the school gates and parents need to take a long, hard look at their behaviour as many don’t take this responsibility seriously. I am sick and tired of families who have a relaxed attitude to their kids’ mobile phone use. Time and time again it’s caused problems for my children and family.

When I became a dad I naively thought the issue of screen time was about stopping your kids from watching too many cartoons. How wrong I was!

Bullying, bad language, sharing of inappropriate videos. I’m afraid we’ve had to deal with all these issues and much more. What really concerns me is that these things often happen with the knowledge or even connivance of parents.

This is why Williamson’s remarks are totally off target. What we need is legislation to force the tech companies to undertake proper age verification checks. We need to make it a criminal offence to supply youngsters with apps when they are under age.

Some will say that’s too difficult or simply not possible. I say that’s rubbish. Cinema managers, publicans and vape store owners can all be prosecuted for selling products to under age users so why not app store operators? Supermarkets sell booze online so if they can be trusted and regulated, the app stores can too.

This would also make parents legally responsible for what their children were doing online. I think that would be a brilliant idea as it would force parents to show a greater interest into what kids were doing.

The forthcoming Online Safety Bill is the one great hope. Alas, I hear different things about the Bill. The Government is promising one thing, but experts are saying it’ll be incredibly weak.

In the meantime, politicians will continue to blame schoolkids for being disruptive in class when they aren’t. More worryingly, online bullying of children will continue and many parents will fail to keep a proper eye on their kids’ digital footprint.

The one good thing to come of this is that Williamson has at least launched a consultation into mobile phone use in schools. This is an opportunity to make clear that he’s mistaken and that it’s mobile phone use more generally that’s the problem.

It’s an issue that desperately needs the Government’s attention as the one thing Williamson is right about is that phone use can be damaging to youngsters. The law has simply not caught up with smart phones. Smart phones and app use are totally unregulated and it is damaging to young people. Banning phones in school, however, will do nothing to solve the issue.   

5 thoughts on “Don’t ban mobile phones from schools, make it illegal to buy apps under age”

  1. I can totally agree with where you are coming from John. They are seeing a simple strategy to a wider spread underlying issue which they think banning mobile phones in schools is the answer but delve deeper as you have and this will do nothing for any of the issues they will still continue but away from the school premises.

    With how technology has advanced and how technology is such a large part of todays education system, the use of mobile phones, tablets, laptops and pc’s are going to be massively used by a wide spread age range. My eldest step daughter who is 9 and currently in yr4 recieved yesterday at school her own chromebook to use in school, which she will use solely now until she leaves at the end of year 6.

    The parents need to be more responsible and more needs to be done as you mentioned regarding age appropriate usage. Console games do it but its the parents responsibility to purchase it for their children, the same for apps the creators and distributors need more to restrict its content to a younger age range and parents need to be more responsible of what they are exposing their children to.

    A long reply from me, apologies. My older girls, 8,9 and 10 have mobile phones, they are a great way for them to keep in contact independently with their dad (for my step daughters) and for my eldest daughter who lives with her mum to keep in contact with me. They play games such as roblox but we are mindful and regularly check their accounts and activity. For us it is youtube that is an issue as they have begun watching certain gaming channels and YouTube channels that are aimed at the tween age group 8-12yrs. I need to look more into restrictions more for what they could possibly watch.

    Sorry for the long winded reply John, this is a great topic for discussion, thank you for sharing.

    1. As you have probably gathered Eddie, I’m not against kids having mobile phones. You’re absolutely right, tech is simply a part of life and they need to use it. it;s part of working life, family life and. . . school life!

      Yes, I do like my eldest to have a phone with her so I can check on her progress to and from school etc. But does it have to be a smart phone???

      Honestly, the problems we’ve had to deal with caused by other kids using messaging apps or social media apps. My youngest daughter has an eight year old friend who uses TikTok. There’s no other way to put it: That’s parents being irresponsible. Unfortunately there are a lot of parents who aren’t on top of this stuff which is really sad and it creates problems for everyone. And don’t get me started on YouTube! We locked down the accounts as the kids were watching too much trash.

      Interesting what you say about your stepkids and daughter using phones to keep in touch with the other side of their families. That just shows how versatile and useful they can be when used properly.

      1. In terms of needing a smart phone, no i don’t think they do. A smartphone these days for anyone adults included even though it is practical but also a fashion statement. Like back when I was in school, me and my brother wanted the latest reebok classic trainers or Nike to be like others at school even though my parents budget wouldn’t stretch to those sort of trainers.

        They have smart phones because its usually video calls they have with other members of the family. We are mindful of what they do on their phone and do check regularly.

        With you on the trash on youtube, its following suit with school friends and what they do and watch and what they pick up on from roblox and the likes.

  2. I totally agree with your post John.
    Eddie also make a valid point. Most phones these days are now smart phone, and the choice of none smart phones are limited. This forces kids to want the latest most fancy one going.
    As a contrast My sons primary school has banned phones all together. My oldest 2 daughters, phones are actually encouraged. with ground rules, of course. But they actively encourage the kids to use their mobile phones for certain classroom experiments/ social experiments etc, within class itself.
    Then there is the lockdowns and remote learning. All homework is now all done on teams. Teams will only run on certain software levels so the use or access to the latest tech has now become a necessity in academics.

    Mobile phones aren’t damaging. The misuse, and lack of education regarding their capabilities, beyond the actual handset is what is damaging. Going back to your point, the government definitely need to be actively looking at integrating cyber education from every angle. currently it covers a small portion of what cyber harassment/bullying covers.

    1. Yup, banning mobile phones is a knee jerk reaction, a smokescreen to cover other Government failings. It does indeed overlook the fact that tech has a role in education. Government and schools do have a role to play in improving education about online behavior but this stuff starts at home and in my experience most parents show little interest in what their youngsters are getting up to.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top