Sunday 23 June 2019

Government should shame parents who give phones to toddlers, head of Britain’s strictest school says

Pupils struggle to revise for GCSEs due to smartphone addiction, warns Katharine Birbalsingh

The headteacher of a school dubbed “the strictest in the country” has called for a significant government campaign to shame parents who give their mobile phones to toddlers. 

Katharine Birbalsingh, who founded the Michaela Community School in London, said putting phones in front of pre-school children can make it harder for them to read later on, Tes reports.

The head of the school, renowned for its strict behaviour policy, warned that excessive screen time could also have a negative impact on children’s social interactions and mental health.

Speaking at an event organised by the think tank Policy Exchange, Ms Birbalsingh said: “Government should have a massive campaign, and I mean millions need to be spent on this, where on every billboard we are talking about this.

“Where if you see a parent putting a phone in front of a toddler there would be a sense of shame.”

Ms Birbalsingh, who called on the government to do more to tackle problems with social media, said some of her pupils struggle to revise for their GCSEs because of smartphone addiction.

The headteacher added that she knows of children who are on their smartphones until 2am or 3am on school days and are sleeping through the day.

Ms Birbalsingh said: “Parents will then argue they want the smartphone because it’s a great babysitter. You hand the smartphone to the child and then the child doesn’t need looking after.

“It means that they are no longer able to play board games, talk to each other or make friends or ask questions, or be interactive in a social way. Of course that affects their mental health.”

She added: “I’m telling you, social media is our number one problem, and if government wants to help schools, that is where they should be putting their money.”

Her comments came on the same week that education secretary Damian Hinds warned that children are growing up with a “warped” view of what is normal because of false images on social media.

The minister has called on online celebrities and social media influencers to take fewer selfies to reduce negative body image among children.

It followed a global study which revealed that heads in England are more likely to face problems with cyberbullying and misusing social media among pupils than in any other developed country.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There is undoubtedly a problem with excessive use of mobile phones and the impact this can have on young people in terms of their mental health and wellbeing and how they interact in the real world.

“We need to educate young people to navigate this technology in a positive way so that it is a useful tool rather than a damaging addiction and we all have a part to play in that process.

“We would support more help and advice for parents, but we do not think that a campaign to shame parents would be the right approach.”

Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Early Years Alliance, added: “It’s important we monitor screen time but, for the time being at least, we don’t have any hard, long-term evidence to say whether or not it is harmful.

“Tablets and phones are already a part of our everyday lives and that relationship between people and technology is likely to be even more important when today’s youngest children become adults.”

(Source: Independent)

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