The growth in the number of children with smartphones that have some form of internet capability has been exponential in the last five years. Schools have a variety of different attitudes as to what age children are allowed to have a phone. With day schools, phones are increasingly becoming a necessary tool of communication between parents and children regarding pick up times and after school arrangements etc but in general are banned during school hours. Simple devices, such as the 1stFone, which programmes up to 12 names that your child can contact into a straightforward kiddy-friendly phone, may be the answer for younger kids.
For older children, having the ‘right’ phone is yet another pre-teen social pressure. If you have not read the excellent article in the Huffington Post by Janell Burley-Hoffman about the ‘contract’ she negotiates with her 13 year old son before giving him an iPhone, it is well worth a look huffingtonpost.com Her key point is that having a phone must not stop her son experiencing life first hand. “Don’t feel you have to document everything,” she says. “Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you.”
At boarding preps, it seems to be a general rule that children whose parents are not overseas (and certainly the younger ones) hand in their phones on arrival. Communication with parents is not only allowed but actively encouraged but it takes place at set times, via school phones, school email and Skype. Both Simon O’Malley (Wellesley House) and Stella Gravill (Cranleigh Prep) agree that the children respond well to this. “We are pretty tough on it,” says Gravill, “but we want them socialising with each other not with their heads down.” And do parents object? “On the contrary,” says O’Malley, “they are delighted.”
As they reach the top of the school, a number of preps start allowing phones. Lyndsay Hearsay of Chafyn Grove School is typical and says that their children are allowed them in the summer term of Year 8 (for a set period of time each day) to get them prepared for having a lot more freedom with them in senior school.
Facebook has 1.1 billion users. If it was a country it would be the third biggest in the world. The minimum age to open a Facebook account is 13. The official line for most schools is that primary aged children should not go on the site. However, teachers are pragmatists. “The vast majority of our Year 6 children are on Facebook,” one teacher tells me. However, beware underage users. Facebook tracks your age and will run age appropriate ads on your page. So if an eight year old registers as a 13 year old, by the time he/she is 13, Facebook will be assuming he/she is 18 and post ads accordingly. With Facebook and other social media, the key thing for kids to understand is that what they write is permanent, says O’Malley. “Everywhere you go you leave a trail of breadcrumbs. You may think what you are writing is private but it is all there and you can’t get rid of it.”
Social networking sites and phone/text communications create a whole playground for bullying and it is important your children are taught about the effects of what is said online. Parents can expecct their kids to be taught by schools to respect and look after their friends online as well as in real life.