The Irish Times view on smartphone use by children: trying to turn the tide

The success of welcome initiatives to reduce phone use in primary schools will hinge on the extent of support by parents

The agreement of parents in Greystones, Co Wicklow, to introduce a voluntary no smartphone code for pupils of the town’s eight primary schools may seem a little naïve to any parent who has tried and failed to restrict their children’s use of these devices.

But that is no reason not to try. The initiative’s success will hinge on the number of parents who sign up for the code, which clearly has widespread support in the community. And parents do not have to look any further than their own children’s happiness to find the motivation to try.

The Surgeon General of the United States – the country’s top health official – issued a public warning on Tuesday about the “profound risk of harm to the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents” of social media, primarily accessed via smartphones. Vivek Murthy’s recommendations centred on the need for parents to take responsibility and set boundaries for their children’s use of social media. His intervention reflects widespread concern in the US about the impact of social media.

The same concerns preoccupy parents throughout Ireland. In Greystones they have decided to take matters into their own hands.They are taking on a multi-billion-dollar industry that has devoted enormous resources to developing products that are highly addictive – and highly profitable – with little thought given to their detrimental impact on the mental health of users.


The idea that parents will find the time and energy – amidst all the other stresses and strains of modern family life – to try to break the hold these devices can have on their children is admirable, if optimistic. But whatever the impact of their voluntary code, the parents of Greystones will have succeeded in pushing us closer to confronting the real and enduring harm facilitated by a laissez-faire approach to regulating social media.

These concerns were recently voiced by Minister for Health and local Greystones TD Stephen Donnelly, who railed against harmful social media algorithms. Where society goes politicians quickly follow.