Parents in Irish town unite to say no to their children having smartphones

St Patrick's Primary School headteacher Rachel Harper who was behind the smartphone pact. Credit: It Takes A Village

By Rachel Dixon, Multimedia Producer

The parents of young children in a small coastal town in Ireland have united to say no to their children having smartphones until they go to secondary school.

Those with primary school age children in Greystone, County Wicklow, have all agreed not to let their little ones have devices including smartphones, smart pads, and access to apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and TikTok.

Their community wide pact came together thanks to St Patrick's Primary School Headteacher Rachel Harper, who got in touch with the parents associations at all eight schools in the area.

"You wouldn’t let your child open the door to a stranger, but giving them a smart phone is similar - at the click of a button they can reach adult material that’s far beyond their years and once they see it you can’t take it back," she told ITV News.

"Nobody wants their child to be the odd one out, or be different, but now that’s not case.

"As the children have said to me, there’s a sense of fairness that everyone is the same," she said.

The eight primary school teachers who all agreed to the 'No Smart Device Voluntary Code'. Credit: It Takes A Village

Everyone agreed to the 'No Smart Device Voluntary Code' on May 26 and two weeks later Ms Harper is already seeing results.

She told ITV News: "Everybody was so positive about it, that’s what I couldn’t get over.

"What’s really come across is the parents' relief.

"They were silently concerned about stepping out and thinking they were being too over protective or extreme, but that’s taken away from the parents with the school leading it.

"I appreciate not all kids are going to like this, but there was a girl sixth class (year 6) who was asking her friend about her smartphone and she said 'oh I’m not using it anymore I’m going to wait until we go to secondary'."

Now, across the town, children under 11 not having a smart phone is the new normal.

Ms Harper said: "Childhood is getting shorter and shorter and this is a way to prolong that too, it’s all about getting outside and meeting your friends.

"Its our job to protect them.

"We have children here from Ukraine so the kids are aware of the war, and if they google it they see all these violent images.

"They’re just not emotionally ready for a smartphone, they can post a funny picture but have no idea where it’s going."

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While St Patrick's is pro-technology they want to "protect" children from the dangers of the internet.

The ban on smartphones is part of a wider plan called 'It Takes A Village' which is focusing the Greystone and Delgany community as a whole on working to improve children's mental health.

Ms Harper's was motivated after noticing a spike in anxiety amongst her pupils - in some extreme cases children were refusing to come in to school.

Before the scheme was rolled out, 800 parents answered a survey sent out by the school.

It found 54% of parents and 100% of principals saw an increase in anxiety in children.

The scheme has created a huge stir in the area, with "everyone talking about it in cafes and restaurants".

Ms Harper said the response has been "crazy" and teachers across the country have contacted her, hoping to follow suit.

She said she could not believe the media interest and even someone from Netflix has asked to make a documentary about the idea.

She joked: "Maybe it is a historical moment, even if I’ll be hated among ten and 11 year olds, but I think they’ll thank me for it."

Greystone is not the only town opting for a blanket ban on social media, one rural village in India goes offline for 90 minutes every day.

A siren goes off at 7pm in the village of Mohite Vadgaon, situated in the Sangli district of West India, signaling to the population of 3,000 farmers and sugar mill workers to switch off their phones, internet and TVs.

Walking with smart phones was also banned in Japan's Yamato City in 2020, after the population agreed with the mayor's assessment that shuffling with your head down was “simply dangerous”. 

Five key tips to limit your child's smart phone use

Here are a few ideas parents can put in place to help children have a healthy relationship with their smart phones, social media and the internet, according to charity Childnet.

  • Have regular chats with young people about how going online can impact our emotions, and try to check-in with young people after they’ve spent time on their devices.

  • Turn on 'do not disturb,' set time limits or mute apps to give children a break and make use of wellbeing tools offered by devices and sites.

  • Create a 'Family Agreement' - it's important to show your children that you use technology in a healthy way. If everyone agrees to a clear routine on when you use technology it will help to set boundaries.

  • Make sure your children know who they can turn to for support, whether this is a trusted adult at home or school or by contacting a helpline.

  • Try to stay informed on what to do or where to go for help if ever your child does need help with something that is worrying or upsetting them online.