mobile phones mental health wellbeing school

Adolescents, Mobiles, the Classroom

A lot has been said recently about mobile phones and the classroom. Some of it useful. I am a teacher and a Human Givens therapist. I think I have an understanding of both the learning potential that a mobile can offer as well as its potential risks to the mental health and wellbeing of the child or adolescent. Yes, mobiles and everything that goes with them can be damaging to our mental health. Well, pollution is bad for our mental health. Does that mean we all have to escape the city and live in the countryside? The mobile phone is here to stay. Instead of trying to ban them from schools, we would be much wiser to engage with the teenagers’ model of reality and learn with them how we can use the mobile in a way that is productive.

There is a school in Wembley that has, what can only be called, a draconian set of rules around mobile phones. You can read the rules here. “If a pupil’s mobile phone is seen or heard anywhere on the school grounds it will be confiscated immediately.” That confiscation could last as many as 16 weeks. The Head Teacher recently appeared on BBC London News defending her position. I’m sure that the same school might have had a rule in the 80’s that would have been as draconian for the Sony Walkman. Is it really useful or wise to be that strict? In my opinion, these rules are from a bygone era. Dickensian even. It is interesting that on the same page as these rules is a list of TV appearances made by the Head. It does make me wonder if this is yet another publicity seeking exercise. If it is, it has worked. Very well.

Yes, I accept that all of us, not just teens, are spending far too much time on our mobiles at the expense of meaningful face to face interaction with others. Yes, social media has a lot to answer for when it comes to self-image and how more and more of us are developing stress and anxiety because of the pressure we feel based on what we are seeing on our screens. We all spend too much time checking our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. This week we were told that parents need to ban phones at meal times and in the bedroom. I cannot agree more.

But to ban them in schools? I’m not convinced.

These days, it is expected that schools ensure that the pupils have good IT skills. Surely smart phones are part of that skills package? Most schools these days have an Intranet; the pupils use packages like Office 365 that comes with Outlook and a school email address. Teachers are often expected to set homework on platforms such as Fronter or Firefly. Parents now have access to a Parent Portal where they can see what is being set and they can contact a teacher. Pupils are often expected to email work to their teachers using their personal school email address rather than a gmail account. Outlook comes with a brilliant diary and some schools are expecting the pupils to learn how to use it.

The pupils see adults, teachers or parents, using their phones for everything from browsing the web, to sending emails, to updating social media. Why should they not do the same? I think every well-adjusted pupil will know that doing any of the above, while I am teaching the finer details of “My Last Duchess”, would be inappropriate. Rude, in fact. Any punishment that comes their way because of it, would be justified. Part of teaching IT skills should be how to use IT appropriately.

I teach in a school with a high percentage of pupils with SEND. For some of them, basic organisation is difficult. Spelling is difficult. Handwriting is difficult. The classroom for them can be a very stressful place. A mobile phone can really come into its own in this classroom. I use them all the time. The class knows: I do not want to see or hear your phone unless I have asked you to take it out. And then when it does come out, it could be to enter homework into their diary; or to look up what is meant by “rhyming couplet”. And then it is put away.

My school simply does not have the cash to supply each classroom with a set of dictionaries. The pupils have a phone so why not engage with their world and let them use it? For the dyslexic, having that facility reduces the stress in the classroom. But what is important from the start is a clear set of rules and boundaries, set by me, modelled by me. The pupils never see my phone. But then I have a PC on my desk if I need to research something in a hurry.

I am also involved with the PSHCE programme and I regularly have sessions that focus entirely on mobile phones and how they can be damaging to us. We have Internet Safety Days where the entire school will have a talk on how to stay safe online and what the potential dangers are of dependence on or addiction to the mobile phone. Enough has been said about screen time and we all know that in excess it is damaging to all of us. They are taught that as well.

But we need to educate the adolescent rather than ruling with an iron fist. We need to teach them responsibility. We need to model appropriate use.

After watching the segment on the news, I was left with one question: Do the teachers at that school in Wembley leave their phones at home?


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