Let's put the phones away

Mobile phones: vital learning tools, or dangerous distractions? PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Mobile phones: vital learning tools, or dangerous distractions? PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
At first, they will be afraid. They will be petrified, and think they cannot live without them by their side.

But they will survive.

Secondary school pupils and their mobile phones are often not easily parted. This is the first truly digital generation, and a teenager in 2019 who spends more than a couple of hours away from a screen is either sleeping or unhappily serving a ban on electronics handed down by brave parents.

The ubiquitousness of the mobile phone is not necessarily cause for serious alarm. Technology has transformed lives, opened up new horizons, brought the world to our teenagers (and older generations), contributed to efficient learning processes, and made communication vastly simpler.

Phones are not the devil's work. And they are not going away in a hurry. They are getting faster, more versatile, cheaper - making Mr Apple and Mr Samsung hugely rich and making it easier for everybody to have one.

But, as everyone knows, modern phone culture also causes plenty of damage and hurt.

It has facilitated bullying in and out of school, been a factor in the mental health crisis, caused immense distraction for pupils whose heads need to be in maths or science and not the latest post from a social media influencer, led to a rise in theft, and contributed to sleepless nights that have adverse effects on young brains and minds.

And, there is no escaping the P word. The Ministry of Education last week revealed a staggering 300,000 searches for pornographic material had been blocked on New Zealand school networks. This suggests schools have excellent safety nets in place but illustrates what some teenagers want from their phones.

So, will a blanket ban on phones at school work?

Most New Zealand schools have robust policies already. They tend to allow phones through the gate, but pupils are understandably not allowed to be on them during class time.

Rules are becoming much tougher in other places. France has introduced an outright ban on phones at school, labelling it a ``detox'' law, while the Australian state of Victoria just announced a similar ban from next year, vowing to rid its classrooms of a ``major distraction''.

New Zealand Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick, of Dunedin, told TVNZ last year he thought a total ban in this country was unlikely.

Interestingly, School News reported on a project at a secondary school in Auckland where a phone ban was rejected because it was effectively seen as ignoring the issue. Phones would always be a potential distraction, at school or at university or in a workplace, so better to get people equipped at a young age to self-regulate.

That is an admirable thought - but an idealistic one.

School is for learning. If phones can be used solely to help promote that learning, as a genuine educational tool, that is a fine thing. The reality is that time on modern phones - miniature computers, really - leads to a drop in productivity and a decrease in the amount of meaningful social interactions at school.

It is not a time for hysteria, and parents can contribute to that by not fretting over how they will contact their children if phones must be turned off during school hours.

Common sense needs to prevail. We owe it to our children to help them understand phones should not be ruling their lives.

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