Left To Our Own Devices

Feb 04

Left to our own devices

by Hilary Phillips

This article appeared in the Sherborne Times, February 2024

January is over. Our resolutions have become new habits or faint memories. The days are longer although the weather is playing tricks with that notion. Christmas presents are no longer a shiny novelty but a part of our lives or a well-meant dust gatherer on the shelf.

Perhaps, if you have children, you bought them a device of some kind for Christmas? I bought my youngest a new phone after she was mugged by someone on a scooter in London.  As a young adult it’s put her off moving to the capital for a bit and for that I am strangely grateful to the thief, but in all other ways it has been hugely frustrating. I realise how much I rely on being able to send her a message, know that she will be able to call me if there’s a problem, ask her to put together a video clip for me, (she’s great at helping with the school’s social media), transfer her money if she has done some shopping for me and a hundred other things.

Now, as the head of a prep school where we don’t allow the pupils to have phones/ipads etc, you might now be expecting me to say that it has brought us together in new ways, that we have more meaningful conversations, that life is enriched, and we are all better for less tech in our lives.  Well, yes perhaps but the loss of the phone has been really disruptive which negates a lot of those great aspects.  That phone was really useful, hence why I bought her a decent new one without a moment’s hesitation.

So, no tech is not the answer.  “Why then,” I hear you ask, “do you deny your pupils their devices?” I think the answer is that we don’t want to deny these children this amazing tech, but we do want to delay until we think they can control it, rather than be controlled by it. Phones are the real problem here as they are designed to be with us. No pocket? Lanyard around your neck or perhaps tuck it into an item of clothing. It’s so easy to have it with us all the time. To add to the issue, apps are purposely designed to be addictive. Can you ignore your phone when it beeps or buzzes in your pocket? How much worse for a child whose brain has not fully developed.  Friendships, relationships, arguments, these are all hard enough without the magnification that tech brings. And don’t get me started on the oversharing that social media encourages. I don’t only mean the photos and stories showing how amazing our lives, holidays, homes, experiences are, I mean the sharing of personal details giving the opportunity for identity theft. Birthdays – ours and our children’s –  are widely shared, locations, favourite things are public because who actually remembers to update their privacy settings? All these things make identity theft scarily easy.

Referring back to the question of whether you gave your child a new device for Christmas, how many times have you randomly asked for access to the phone and checked messages and accounts?  It’s your phone and you are paying the bills, so you have a perfect right to do this. As parents we need to band together on this. If our children and their friends know that we will be looking at messages regularly, the type of language used will be more measured and believe me, it needs to be.  It’s easy to be bold and brave under cover of a screen and children believe in the promised anonymity.  They say things they would never say to an actual person.  So do many adults for that matter, just look at Twitter.

Children do need privacy and they do need secrets. What they also need is protection and support when it goes wrong. They need the resilience to discount what is said, to shrug off the vile comments, to be confident in their own skin and to understand that the power lies with them, and the problem lies with those who are cruel and unkind.

Here at Hanford, given our pupils are aged between 7 to 13 years, we know we have a particular responsibility to protect them until we feel they have the tools to control themselves and their reactions to what is out there. We also know our approach works as former pupils have told us that they have a few, well-chosen social media sites they use and have no trouble switching off.

Perhaps now is the time, after the first flush of resolutions for 2024, for us all to rethink our relationships with our phones.














Related Posts
View All