This opinion article from teacher and parent Jacqui Wan was published in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald in May 2023. We think it will be very thought-provoking for parents.
Calling all parents: Let’s opt out of the teenage smartphone revolution
As a teacher, I have seen the classroom transform in the past decade. Before computers were ever-present, teaching was like a dance between the student and teacher where unexpected (and sometimes delightful!) moments took place. An exchange. A relationship.
After teaching in a number of different schools these past five years or so, I have been struck by how homogeneous they have become. Students spend most of their day on a laptop. Lessons look the same. If a teacher is absent, then the work is “posted” for them to complete. They needn’t come and see you at lunchtime because they can always email.
The latest trend appears to be buying your child a mobile phone as soon as they begin high school. The year 7 students where I teach now agree that peer pressure plays a part and that everyone communicates via Snapchat. I think parents are confused and also feel pressured to keep up. I think we need to give them permission to opt out.
The statistics on the mental health of young people this past decade are alarming and have been highlighted in books and by programs such as US docudrama The Social Dilemma on Netflix. In the program, New York University professor Jonathan Haidt claimed there has been a “gigantic increase” in depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide among pre-teens and teenagers in the US who have been on social media since primary school.