Call for phone and Internet crackdown in South African schools

Be in Touch founder Kate Farina says more needs to be done to protect children online, including banning smartphones before high school, no social media before 16, and phone-free schools.

Speaking to 702 and citing Jonathan Haidt’s The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, Farina said there isn’t enough being done to protect children online.

Moreover, she said too much is being done to keep children sheltered in the “offline world”.

“We’re experiencing a massive global shift in the thinking around the kind of people our children are engaging with online,” said Farina.

She explained that children are overprotected in the real world, denying them critical skills and experiences, and underprotected on the Internet.

“That goes to the teen years, where we’ve got this massive dopamine drop, which is designed to help humans learn basic life skills through going out and taking risks, which then gives them that dopamine hit,” said Farina.

“What we’ve seen is a short circuit happening, where it’s far easier to reach into your pocket and grab your device to get that hit.”

As a result, these teenagers don’t have the critical life skills they would if they went out and took risks to get the dopamine hit.

She explained that many parents don’t know what’s going on online and don’t put the right safety settings and parental controls on devices.

In his book, Haidt highlights several remedies that will be critical to addressing the issue:

  • No smartphones before High School;
  • No social media before 16;
  • Phone-free schools; and,
  • More independence, free play, and responsibility in the real world.

“We are currently experiencing a massive shift in consciousness of thinking, as too much and inappropriate screen exposure is being linked more conclusively to the declining mental and physical health of this generation of tweens and teens,” said Farina.

“As a part of this shift, the vital role that schools have to play in providing and ensuring smartphone-free classrooms is coming to the fore.”

The Independent Institute of Education (IIE) recently called for parents of students at Crawford, Pinnacle, Trinityhouse, and Abbotts College to install Internet monitoring software to police their children’s online activity.

It also banned the use of the anonymous social media app Whisper, which it says exposes children to inappropriate discussions and solicitations.

According to IIE group psychologist Nasrin Kirsten, the use of Whisper raises concerns about the safety and well-being of children.

In a notice sent to parents, the IIE informed parents of the Whisper ban and encouraged them to support its stance by installing Internet monitoring software like Net Nanny on their children’s devices.

The IIE has the support of Klikd app co-founders Pam Tudin and Sarah Hofman, regarding the banning of Whisper.

Tudin explained that the aspect of anonymity allows anyone at the school to openly talk about anyone else, including things like who looks best in a bikini, who has the ugliest nose, and who should be booted from a social media group.

This can ultimately constitute a form of cyberbullying.

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Call for phone and Internet crackdown in South African schools