Just before term started in September, our headmaster wrote to parents informing them that the school planned to ban mobile phone usage for children aged up to Year 9, with older pupils told they would undergo detox days through the week.
Instead of wasting time liking posts on Snapchat, watching YouTube videos of cats getting boxes stuck on their heads and trawling Instagram, they would all be encouraged to play.
To this aim, we bought all the school’s houses a great big pile of board games. Good old fashioned Monopoly, Risk, Cluedo and Articulate suddenly popped up in common rooms everywhere. We also suggested that housemistresses and housemasters remind the pupils of the 100 plus clubs and activities that the school offers. They range from traditional groups like chess, orchestra and swing band to things as esoteric as Lego Robotics and dissection club!
Our headmaster, Richard Cairns, said to parents in his letter, “Our strategy is to wean pupils off their addiction to mobile phones while they are still relatively young, gradually allowing them more freedom to use phones as they get older so that they learn how to be responsible users.”
“We want to provide time and space for youngsters to learn the simple art of conversation, to look up and notice the wonderful and sometimes not so wonderful world around them, and to discover the pleasures of simple board games and physical activity.”
Since the detox announcement – which, let’s not kid anyone here, did come as a bit of a shock to pupils – a number of schools have followed suit and it seems like every week the national newspapers report on the corrosive effects of constant phone use by children. However, there are signs that even children themselves are starting to realise how damaging over-use can be.
The Times reported in October that a study of 5,000 pupils undertaken by Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) showed that nearly two thirds of young people in schools would not mind if social media had never been invented whilst seven in ten had put themselves through digital detoxes.
Research shows that free play gives children many valuable benefits, including the development of physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills. We, as adults, instinctively know this but children do not have the life experience to understand how damaging it can be to inhabit a digital world too much in a single day.
It’s been a few months now since we introduced our digital detoxes and tried to emphasise the importance of games and activities in free time. So, what do our pupils think of it now they have had time to get used to the new regime? I spoke to a few of our pupils and what they had to say reminded me how much children actually appreciate clear boundaries on this – and are even grateful for them.
Alice Sugarman, in year 10, commented, “We have been brought up with our phones and don’t know any different than to have access to them 24/7. Everything is on your phone and we feel like we need to get stuff done on them – but admittedly its stuff like Snapchat and non-essential social media things.”
“But, you know what, I have realised that the phone really does tire you out. Since the ban, I have felt heathier mentally. I read more at night because I am a boarder and we have to hand them in before we go to bed. I also feel like I sleep more because I am not constantly tempted by the little light flashing on which means a new notification.”
Classmate Imogen Jenner added, “At first we looked at the games that the school had brought in and thought we probably wouldn’t play them but as time has gone by we have found ourselves playing the games and cards as a social thing, sitting down and laughing and chatting as we play.”
Eva Ellicock, in year 9, said, “We have been doing more extra-curricular activities than we might have done had we still had access to our phones. It’s good because it means we talk to each other and other people a lot more. You can’t just message your friends when you don’t know anyone – you have to look up, see who there is to talk to and take the plunge.”
Sophie Sabin, also in year 9, summed it up, “During break time I’ve gone outside a lot more and socialised and chatted with my friends instead of just checking my social media and I do also sleep a lot more at night, as if I have my phone by my bed then I check it every time it gives a notification. There has always been loads of activities on offer at school but now we are really getting involved so much more. I think that this is definitely partly to do with the fact that we don’t get our phones straight after school ends, meaning that we have to entertain ourselves by means other than our devices!”
To learn more about Brighton College please visit: brightoncollege.org.uk