The Irish Times view on smartphones in schools: adults must do better

Future generations may look back in bemusement at how so many children were given unfettered access to the internet

More than 15 years since the twin transformative technologies of social media and smartphones were introduced to an unsuspecting world, society continues to struggle to understand the full social and psychological consequences. These are not confined to the young, but the impact of the always-on, always-present digital experience on the still-developing youthful brain, as well as the potential negative implications for the development of socialisation and deep learning skills, have caused most alarm.

There is good reason to be concerned. A study by University College Dublin’s school of psychology and mental health charity Jigsaw shows levels of anxiety and depression rose significantly among Irish 12-to-19 year-olds between 2012-2019, while levels of self-esteem, resilience and optimism fell.

While not everyone agrees that a direct causal link has been proved with the spread of mobile digital devices, the circumstantial evidence is strong enough to warrant action. It is even more compelling when it comes to the impact of smartphones on education and social interaction. It is hard to disagree with academics who argue that social media has displaced in-person gatherings, and disrupted sleep patterns.

The effects are visible in schools. Unesco has said that excessive phone use is linked to reduced educational performance and that high levels of screen time have a negative effect on children’s emotional stability. A symposium of Irish school principals in Dublin recently heard that the UN now recommends restrictions on mobile devices in school settings. Many Irish schools are now moving to implement such restrictions, and it seems likely that most will follow suit. Unlike some other countries, including the UK, there seems to be little appetite for a nationwide policy or for legislative change, but there is a strong argument in favour of the Department of Education, which is currently in the process of drawing up guidelines for primary schools becoming more pro-active and supportive.


Future generations may look back in bemusement at how so many children were given unfettered and unmonitored access to social media and the internet. Primary responsibility for this, of course, resides not with schools but with families. A survey this month showed that almost a quarter of Irish six-year-olds have their own smartphone and 45 per cent of 10-year-olds are allowed use their smartphones in their bedrooms. Just 28 per cent of parents use parental controls on their children’s devices.

If the young are to be given any chance of learning how to use these highly addictive products , then adults will need to do much better. including how they model their own smartphone behaviour.