SARAH VINE: Why smart phones should be illegal for under-16s
Published: 01:11, 20 May 2015 | Updated: 18:11, 21 May 2015
Barely a day goes by without another report pointing to how mobile phones are ruining our children’s lives.
The latest comes from the London School of Economics, which has established that mobile phones have a seriously detrimental effect on the performance of children aged 14 to 16, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds.
In schools where pupils are barred from using their phones during lessons, results among 16-year-olds jumped by 6.4 per cent; in the case of low-achieving and poorer pupils, the improvement doubled.
So startling are these results that the LSE has recommended implementing a ban on mobile phones in all schools — it is currently at the discretion of individual headteachers.
I would go much further. I want to see a ban on the use of smart phones among under-16s altogether.
Why? Simple. Society has a duty to shield young brains from adult experiences they are either too immature to understand, or which might do long-term developmental damage.
You would be mortified if you discovered your 12-year-old drinking alcohol, smoking, taking drugs or having sex.
Yet millions of parents every day allow their children to leave home with something just as toxic and, I would argue, just as damaging as any of these things: a smart phone.
Increasingly, smart phones (those which connect to the internet) are replacing the old-fashioned phones that do little more than make and receive calls.
While the old phones are useful devices for parents to keep in touch with their mobile children, smart phones are a whole different animal.
And having seen the impact smart phones have had not only on my own child but on her peers, too, I’m certain they are bad news.
It’s not just the way the non-stop stream of data creates a permanent distraction — constantly demanding their attention.
Or the fact they stop children from interacting face-to-face (how many groups of teenagers do you see in parks, hunched over their phones, nominally together yet lost in their own separate worlds).
What most horrifies me is the way smart phones take normal, healthy children and turn them into zombies whose principal pre-occupations are not schoolwork, riding a bike or even following the latest chart-toppers, but checking how many ‘likes’ their Instagram picture has amassed, or whether their latest video has amassed sufficient comment.
At a time when young minds should be questioning and expanding, their horizons shrink to one tiny, glowing screen. Forget great art, travel, conversation: all they want to know is what’s the wifi code and where can I get the best signal?
There are physical effects, too. Late nights spent texting instead of sleeping, as the constant stream of inanities keeps them awake. Sore necks and bad posture, as they hunch over their screens. They become fat through sheer inertia.
In sensitive children (and what teenager isn’t?) smart phones create untold anxiety. Do I have enough followers? Why has she got more friends than me?
Bullies, meanwhile, are handed power to terrorise 24 hours a day.
Buying your 11-year-old a smart phone is like handing a toddler a box of matches and expecting them not to set fire to themselves.
If these devices were age-restricted, the benefits to the next generation would not just be academic, but physical and psychological, too. They’d sleep more, exercise more, bitch less, spend more time in the real world and have a better chance of growing up as rounded human beings.
I know age restriction would never fully resolve the issue — just as the ban on selling cigarettes to under-18s doesn’t stop them all from smoking.
But, Lord knows, we have to start somewhere.