Rachel Murray, a mother of three in Greystones, Co Wicklow, fully supports a new “no smartphone” voluntary code to limit children’s ownership of smartphones until they are in second level.
“I think it’s such a good idea: there is strength in numbers. Once one kid gets it in a class, there can sometimes be a snowball effect,” says Murray, who has children ranging in age from four to seven years old.
“I think kids are getting electronics and phones earlier and earlier. If we all do this together, it will be less painful. Kids won’t feel left out. It kind of takes away from the, ’oh, Johnny has a phone, can I have one’? It takes that away for a bit longer and lets kids be kids.”
Her children attend St Patrick’s National School in Greystones, one of eight primary schools in the town.
All the schools’ parents’ associations are signing up to the voluntary code which is backed by school principals. The move was prompted by concern over rising levels of anxiety and mental health issues among pupils.
Katie Walsh, a mother of four, says she has seen the impact of giving a smartphone to a child first-hand.
“My oldest child is 16 and he got his phone at 13½. We lived in the US at the time, where they had a ‘wait until the eighth [grade]’ policy. When you do give a child a phone, there is a shift in their behaviour. It’s something all parents should be aware of,” she says.
“I would love for secondary schools to get on board. There may be issues for parents who work and need to get in touch with their child. So I wonder is there a smarter way to do it, besides a smartphone. Something like a Nokia.
“It would remove some of the social pressure around social media where they are comparing themselves to others. When you give a child a smartphone, they have the world in their hands. Children and teens are outsmarting their parents these days when it comes to technology, and there are always apps to get around settings.”
Fedor Ozhog says he is relieved to hear of the new voluntary code. His daughter has just turned eight and is already asking about when she can have a smartphone.
“I’m grateful this is taking place,” he says. “I’m already having anxiety attacks over how we’re going to deal with that. So, I’ll gladly sign up to it.”
He says he feels she should only have access to a smartphone when she is old enough to understand the consequences.
“Late teens is what I’d hope for a smartphone, but I don’t know how much [of] a reality that it. Maybe the second-level schools will get on board,” he says. “There is [a] phone I read about called ‘light phone, the size of a credit card, and all it does is phone calls. Something like that is the way to go.”
His wife Anastasia agrees and feels children should be allowed to be children for as long as possible.
“I totally agree with it. Our daughter is already asking about when will she be allowed to have a phone. I like the idea of knowing where she will [be] when she is older, but I’m worried about social media.
“I can see teenagers around, sitting in the same spot, not chatting to each other. I got my first phone at around 21. We were able to play and talk to each other. I’d like my daughter to have the same experience. it makes our life easier to have rules, so when I heard [the voluntary code], I was ‘thank you, I love this idea’.”