Smartphone Addiction is Destroying Children’s Lives

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Related article: Digital Disaster: Screen Time is Destroying Children’s Health

I’ve been given three Year 7 Computer Studies classes to teach this academic year. It’s been really exciting, and really interesting to discover what 11-year-olds are learning about in this important subject these days. When I was in Year 7, for instance, I learnt how to create folders, spreadsheets, word-processed documents and databases on an even-then outdated Acorn desktop computer:

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The Acorn Archimedes A3020 desktop computer: What I was using in IT class when I was in Year 7 (Image courtesy of Martin Wichery at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2190336806/)

Today, however, students are using tablets, notebooks and smartphones to learn about:

  • E-safety
  • Digital footprints
  • Cybersecurity
  • Online docs, sheets, slides and forms using Google Suite
  • Gaming addiction

That last bullet point: gaming addiction, has been really interesting to teach as a significant minority of my students are regular gamers on Fortnite and other platforms. As part of their course, I was required to show them this video which tells the story of a young boy whose life was almost destroyed by gaming addiction (very highly recommended):

In the story, the boy is given a gaming console by his dad, and his life basically spirals downwards until he is left homeless. It highlights the fact that online gaming can be really expensive, really addictive and very time-consuming. The effects on the character’s body, his hobbies and his schoolwork are all very cleverly portrayed. 

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Is he working, or gaming?

Gaming addiction is only a small part of a much larger and more pervasive problem in society, however. That problem is smartphone addiction, which has really gripped younger generations quickly, and was certainly not a problem 10 years ago. 

This week, BBC News released a shocking report entitled Smartphone ‘addiction’: Young people ‘panicky’ when denied mobiles:

smartphone addiction

The report summarizes a large study conducted by researchers at King’s College London. The research analysed 41 studies involving a whopping 42,000 young people, and was published in the journal BMC Psychiatry. It arrived at a surprising and worrying conclusion:

  • 23% of participants exhibited behaviors consistent with addiction, such as feeling anxiety when the phone was taken away, not being able to control the time they spent on smartphones and spending so much time on mobiles it encroached on other activities.

So smartphone addiction is officially ‘real’, and that should act as an immediate call-to-action for school leaders. 

As a teacher who has embraced technology for learning purposes for quite some time, I was quite the advocate for the use of smartphones in teaching. They can be used as clickers for online games like Kahoot!, and can be good alternatives when kids don’t have access to tablets or laptop computers. This research however, along with the World Health Organisation’s recent classification of gaming addiction as a mental health disorder has led me to reevaluate my stance. 

Perhaps it’s now time for schools to ban smartphones and online gaming completely?

Here is a snippet of what the World Health Organisation has to say about this new condition, Gaming Disorder:

 

Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

This, I believe, should lead all teachers to a logical question to ask: What can we do about it?

Here are my suggestions:

  • Ban smartphones in schools completely, unless written permission is given from a parent. In the case where written permission has been given, the smartphones must be locked away in a central location during the day and only returned to the student at the end of the school day (e.g. for the purposes of phoning home).
  • Invest in ICT systems that are non-intrusive and non-addictive (e.g. ICT labs). Classrooms could be fitted with notebooks/laptops integrated into classroom desks, or students could be asked to bring their own laptop/tablet to school each day.
  • Schools should have bookable sets of laptops or tablets for students to use, and school libraries should have suitable numbers of laptop and desktop computers for students to use. 

The clear advantage of centralized ICT systems over studentowned devices in schools is control: school-owned devices can be set-up with gaming blockers, chat blockers and website filters. 

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I would suggest that the challenge of solving smartphone and gaming addiction (two separate, but related problems) is an urgent one, and will require:

  • Schools to work even more closely with parents, health professionals, ICT service providers and local governments.
  • Careful allocation of school budgets, with more money being funneled towards ICT systems that are usable, but safe. 

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

3 thoughts on “Smartphone Addiction is Destroying Children’s Lives

    1. Good point, Pam. I think when smartphones were first introduced at/around 2008 the self-discipline issue was a ‘hitchhiker’ onto pervasive smartphone use. Nowadays, I think that students have been conditioned to seek self-gratification from smartphones, and I think that parents have a huge role to play in that.

      1. Technology is not the villain we make it out to be. It’s only a tool—we are the ones who need to make it work for us, not the other way around.

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