On the school’s recent three-day ’fast’, pupils lived without their mobile phones and social media was blocked on the school network.
The initiative – developed in partnership with Sixth Formers – was aimed at helping pupils to reduce their reliance on digital technology. This is an issue facing all teenagers and all schools but Benenden felt that it was in a position, particularly because it is a boarding environment, to discover what benefits there may be to young people going phone-free for a few days.
The feedback from pupils to the Phone Fast has been so positive that the School will now be looking to maintain momentum by repeating the initiative.
Headmistress Samantha Price, who was one of several staff to also go without their phone during the Phone Fast, said: “The response from the girls has been tremendous. The message from them has been clear – they haven’t struggled to adjust at all, and have actually enjoyed the freedom that being without their phones has brought.
“The girls have been playing games with their friends, chatting with one another and enjoying the magnificent grounds we are lucky to have here. In short, they have been having fun – instead of constantly seeking affirmation through social media ‘likes’.
“The intention of the Phone Fast was to show girls here at Benenden – and teenagers everywhere – that time away from your phone can be a good thing. The feedback from our pupils has been incredibly positive, so much so that we will now be making Phone Fasts a regular occurrence here at Benenden.
I would encourage everyone – parents, teachers and young people – to give up their phones for a few days, just to see what a difference it may make – Samantha Price, Head of Benenden School
“All of us in modern society rely too heavily on phones and digital communications and the girls have shown us that breaking that habit can be enormously beneficial. I would encourage everyone – parents, teachers and young people – to give up their phones for a few days, just to see what a difference it may make.”
The Phone Fast was developed in partnership with a group of Sixth Formers, who asked senior management and their boarding staff how they could encourage pupils to reduce, and manage more effectively, their mobile phone use. Staff were also invited to take part if they wished.
The Phone Fast officially came to an end at 1.00pm yesterday and its completion was marked by a phone-themed celebratory party in the afternoon, with cakes featuring app icons and a giant phone screen for the girls to take pictures of one another through.
I think a lot of the girls found life without their phones much easier than they had expected, and everyone has been saying to me that they have really quite enjoyed not having the constant pressure of checking their phones in the evening – Victoria Molloy, Benenden’s Head Girl
Victoria Molloy, Benenden’s Head Girl, said: “I think a lot of the girls found life without their phones much easier than they had expected, and everyone has been saying to me that they have really quite enjoyed not having the constant pressure of checking their phones in the evening.”
The issue of teenagers’ reliance on social media has frequently been in the media in recent months:
The Education and Health select committees announced a joint inquiry into the role that schools play in helping to prevent young people from developing mental health issues – a concern across schools of all types in the country and beyond.
This was followed by a report from the Children’s Commissioner in which she warned that social media companies were not doing enough to ensure children understood what they might do with their pictures, their words and their personal information.
Then, in her first major announcement of the calendar year, the Prime Minister unveiled plans to transform mental health services for young people.
Benenden School already has strict rules around girls’ use of mobiles. Until girls reach Year 11, they hand their phones in at night and no phones are allowed in School during the day. Sixth Formers have the privilege of having their phones during the day as long as they are not seen in lessons without permission.