In the United Kingdom, parents’ fight for a childhood without smartphones

In the United Kingdom, parents' fight for a childhood without smartphones

It’s the question many adults dread being asked by their children: When can I get a phone? In the United Kingdom, parents worried about the impact of this device on young people have decided to take action.

For Daisy Greenwell, journalist and mother of three, it all started with a banal conversation at the school gate, when a parent told her that her 11-year-old son already had a phone, as did a third party. children in the class.

This conversation terrified me. I don’t want to give my child something that I know will harm her mental health and make her dependent“, she posted in the comments of a publication on Instagram in early February.

But I also know that the pressure to (give him a phone), if the rest of his class has one, will be enormous“, added this resident of Woodbridge (east of England).

Its publication triggered a tidal wave of reactions from parents who were also worried about providing their children with a device that they fear could expose them to online harassment, social pressure, to harmful content and even predators.

With her friend Clare Reynolds, she launched a campaign called “Parents United for a Smartphone Free Childhood.”

Studies as well as experiences reported by parents have created a feeling of apprehension regarding children’s pressing requests for a phone.

Daisy Greenwell told AFP she was shocked by a study showing that the earlier a child receives a cell phone, the more their mental health could subsequently suffer.

However, many parents feel unable to refuse to give the precious device to their children.

“Rite of passage”

Almost all students now have a mobile phone by the age of 11 or 12, British Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds told a parliamentary committee in mid-March.

It seems to be a rite of passage“, he told them, adding that some children had one “much earlier”.

After the debate she initiated on social media, Daisy Greenwell created a WhatsApp group which quickly brought together a plethora of like-minded parents who found themselves relieved to see that others felt the same way.

There was “a snowball effect,” she said.

With Clare Reynolds, she encouraged the creation of regional groups, and working groups bringing together people with expertise on the issue, such as school leaders, also emerged.

Others include a director of a technology company and an aide to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Anxious generation

These same parental anxieties are found in the book by American psychologist Jonathan Haidt, “The Anxious Generation”, which has just been published in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Haidt asserts that the “complete childhood transformation that took place between 2010 and 2015“with the rise of smartphones has led to a”great remodeling of childhood“.

The surge in mental illness among young people is linked, according to him, to the smartphone which has become omnipresent, to the continuous surveillance of young people by adults and to the disappearance of a certain freedom.

Things were going better and better in the area of ​​mental health, then everything went haywire in 2013. (…) We need to remove the smartphone from children’s lives“, he pleads.

The psychologist recommends banning smartphones before the age of 14 and social networks before the age of 16.

It is essential, he says, that parents act together to avoid giving in when a child “breaks our hearts” telling us that he is excluded from his group of friends because he is the only one who does not have a phone.

These things are hard to do as a parent“, he admits. “But if we all do it together – even just half of us – it will become much easier for our children“.