Phone bans = bad idea. Proper parenting = good idea. It’s your call

There is a local parenting myth whereby some children were told that the ice-cream van plays Greensleeves to tell everyone it has run out of ice cream. So sad, sorry kids, no ice cream left. No flakes, no sprinkles, nada. Best to go home and have some chopped carrots instead.

This of course only works until a certain age, and it can be effective. As parents, it is incredibly convenient to outsource decisions we don’t want to make, or fights we don’t really want to have, to some external power. School rules are a good one. “Why can’t I have a mullet?” School rules. “Why can’t I get a nose piercing?” School rules. These rules usually last until around the time a teenager becomes an adult, in which case it’s their hairline, their nasal passage. Not your circus, not your monkeys.

Phone bans may be easy for politicians to introduce. However, they are not easy for schools to implement.Credit:

These external decision makers, these law setters, these sometimes invisible powers can be both a carrot and a stick for parents. Especially for things that parents don’t entirely like.

If there is one thing parents can agree on, it is that this whole technology gambit seems a minefield. What with the social media, the violent video games, the fake news, the pornography, and now the ChatGPT. Revenge porn is already a problem and AI deepfake porn is apparently the next thing we should be worried about.

So when Premier Chris Minns stated that his phone ban would commence in term 4 this year, and no students at public high schools could have their mobiles any more, I think most parents thought “phew”.

I have already written about why I don’t think phone bans are a great idea – they take away from principal autonomy, they don’t deal with the root cause of the issue, and they are a Band-Aid to a bullet wound of the great unknowns of technology and teens. Maybe it’s not so much a bullet wound but a flesh-eating virus – the longer it’s not dealt with, the worse it gets.

Phone bans are an easy education policy for politicians to make. However, they are not easy for schools to implement. That’s not to say they can’t be effective in the short term. But they will only be effective if they are combined with community wide efforts at home and through policy and business regulation.

Phone bans don’t teach self-regulation, and can’t stop a teen who will now try to get their seven hours of screen time in the six hours between finishing school and when they should be getting into bed. That may not be a great solution for family time.

We know one of the biggest impacts phones and screens are having on kids is with their sleep patterns (she types, while staring at a computer screen in bed). While screens before bed are part of the problem, another part is the school day starting so early – which isn’t great for teenagers who like (and need) to sleep in. However, the length of the school day isn’t quite the electoral sugar hit as a phone ban.

Chris Minns learns how to check in a phone during a visit to Condell Park High School, where a ban is already in place.Credit: AAP

Knowing the phone ban is commencing in 20 teaching weeks, what can we do to prepare? Firstly, we need to see this not as just a “school issue” but a “community issue”. Too often schools, and the teachers who seem to be fleeing them on the basis of burnout and excessive administration loads, are lumped with solving all of life’s ills. Instead, schools should be one piece of this puzzle.

Another piece should be in the home – where we need to change the relationship we have with our phones. This is not a recommendation that teenagers should move from one phone ban at school to another at home, but instead have clear boundaries around how we use these devices. I am the first to admit I need to work on this. I need to put my phone down. When I am safe at home with my kids, I do not need to have constant access to my phone. Regardless of whether there is a newsblast, or Gwyneth Paltrow wears an insane outfit to a court appearance – it can wait half an hour.

Which comes to my final piece of the puzzle: contactability. We all expect to be constantly contacted, and that those around us should be constantly contactable. Is this lack of boundaries between work and home part of the reason Australia is one of the most burnt-out countries on earth? And yet, we are setting our kids up with the expectation that they should always be contactable.

Unless you are actually “on call”, don’t act like you are. And unless you are actually dealing with a life and death situation, don’t role-model behaviour that sets the expectation that contact is always expected – because then another generation will never learn the joy of turning off notifications and staring at a larger screen to enjoy films in the way they were meant to be.

I don’t think a phone ban is going to fix all of education’s problems, but it would be more effective if we shared the burden with teachers instead of blaming them for being the disciplinarian while parents enjoy the benefits.

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