IT is one of the most difficult decisions parents face: when to give in to their youngest children’s constant demands for a smartphone.
Shocking recent figures from communications regulator Ofcom show that 20% of children have a smartphone by the age of three, rising to 55% between the ages of eight and 11.
But residents of a coastal town in Ireland have decided they don’t want their little ones to spend their formative years staring at a tiny LCD screen.
The town’s eight primary schools, 15 miles south Dublinhad already prevented students from bringing electronic devices into the learning environment.
But school parent associations went further by initiating a voluntary ban among themselves.
It’s a revolutionary approach that would probably be welcomed by parents in Britain too.
A Vodafone survey this week revealed that choosing when to give a child their first mobile phone was as difficult for some parents as choosing the right school to send their children to.
And in July, the United Nations’ educational, scientific and cultural agency, Unesco, called for phones to be banned from classrooms worldwide.
Mental health crisis
When The Sun visited Greystones, residents welcomed the opportunity to free youngsters from the pressure to be permanently connected to social media.
Anja Schubert, who has lived in Greystones for 25 years, says: “I signed up.
“They give me three more years so my daughter doesn’t have a smartphone.
“I guess most people would feel pressured to buy a phone for their child because their peers have them.
“So the more kids that don’t have it, the easier it will be for us.”
More than 70 percent of the parents in Anja’s daughter’s class subscribed to the agreement not to buy a smartphone for their children.
Once kids reach high school, only five percent of parents say they’re willing to hold out against the tide.
Greystones mum Caroline Nolan signed the deal with her two boys’ nursery school, St. Laurence’s.
She won’t give her kids a smartphone until they finish sixth grade, which is for 11-12-year-olds.
She says: “As a family, we talked openly about how they wouldn’t have phones until the end of sixth form for the first year.
“And that’s something we’re pretty strict about.
“But I think collectively in the community, with everyone doing it, it takes the pressure off.”
The rise of social media has been linked to the mental health crisis faced by teenagers.
An NHS report last November revealed that a quarter of Young people in England aged 17 to 19 have a probable mental health disorderwhich was up from one in six a year earlier.
Father Johnny Hayden explained how the Greystones area had been hit by two recent suicides as a result of bullies.
And he believes cracking down on smartphones will benefit young people’s mental health.
He says, “Recently, two girls killed themselves due to bullying in the area.
“It’s terrifying because it’s something that happens between the social world and your child, something that you’re not really involved in, because they don’t want you to see it.
“It’s something that scares you, really.”
The Greystones’ father thinks junior year of high school is a good age to give him a phone.
He said: “I think teenagers’ social lives have changed when they need a phone.
“But in general, my rule is: just get a smartphone when they enter freshman year.
“I have three girls.
“My little one doesn’t have a phone.
“He uses his mom’s phone to play, but he doesn’t have his own phone until he’s in the first year.”
Other cities in Ireland are now considering implementing a similar policy.
Natalie Coffey, who lives in Kilcoole three miles from Greystones, hopes the ban will apply to her son’s school and beyond.
She said: “I would be delighted if it was brought to this area now.
“It makes it the same for everyone, so there’s no real conversation about it.
“It’s just been done across the board. I think it’s a great idea.”
Fine Gael politician Mary Seery Kearney said the partnership should be a model for wider rollout across the country.
He said: “Parents, teachers and head teachers came together to devise and introduce this code, which means all children in the area attending the same schools will not experience the dreaded ‘fear of missing out’, also known as like FOMO, not having a phone or tablet. None of his peers will either.”
Many other countries have already taken the lead.
But one Greystone mother admitted she was divided over the restriction on mobile phone use.
Liz Keogh says: “In a way, smartphones are ruining children’s lives.
“It can be good and it can be bad.
“But if kids are left out, or if they feel excluded by peers, that can be amplified by the phone and sometimes they feel so alone.”