Sydney parents concerned about harms of social media are pushing back on phones for kids
In a bold move, The Heads Up Alliance, made up of a growing group of families from Kingsgrove’s Our Lady of Fatima Primary School and St Ursula’s College, has been established due to concerns about the harmful effects of the technology on children.
Parents who sign up agree not to give their kids access to apps including Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, supporting each other through mutual accountability.
Through these commitments, they hope it will not only decrease feelings of isolation felt by kids who say they are the only ones in their peer groups without access to a smartphone as well as empower parents as a group to say no.
Every three months, members receive emails of support as well as the details of other parents in the group who they can network with.
Around 30 families have signed up, with more jumping on to register weekly. The group now hopes to expand the alliance into other schools.
NSW Labor Leader and Member for Kogarah Chris Minns said children’s phone use had been a huge concern for him for some time and that he is very supportive of The Heads Up Alliance and their work.
“As a father of three boys, Anna and I have been concerned about the impact of phones and other devices on children for some time,” he said.
“Our kids are the first generation to grow up immersed in technology and we don’t fully understand what this means for their young and developing minds.
“I have been looking for ideas to relieve the social pressure our kids feel to ‘fit in’ and to be online because ‘everyone else is’ so it is incredibly fortunate that an initiative like The Heads Up Alliance has emerged in my local area.
“I look forward to working with the parents at Heads Up to see how I can support them.”
Latest research from the Australian Communications and Media Authority has found that almost half (46 per cent) of Australian children aged between 6 to 13 years use a mobile phone – up from 41 per cent in 2015.
Negative issues associated with children’s access to smartphones include addiction, academic distraction, impaired sleep, increases in anxiety and depression risks, exposure of children to sexualised content and increased risk of bullying.
The brain behind The Heads Up Alliance, Dany Elachi said he was simply trying to protect his children’s “already too fleeting” childhood.
The father-of-five acknowledges that while technology has its benefits, it also has a dark side.
“Smartphones and their apps are designed by teams of people looking at ways purely to hook children and get them addicted, it’s that simple,” he said.
“NEGATIVE ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH CHILDREN’S ACCESS TO SMARTPHONES INCLUDE ADDICTION, ACADEMIC DISTRACTION, IMPAIRED SLEEP, INCREASES IN ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION RISKS, EXPOSURE OF CHILDREN TO SEXUALISED CONTENT AND INCREASED RISK OF BULLYING”
“The peer pressure on our children to have social media, and their fear of missing out on online social interactions with friends, is enormous.
“Even though many parents feel uneasy about smartphones in young hands, our children’s incessant pleading can cause us to doubt our decisions.
“By rallying like-minded parents and forming The Heads Up Alliance, we are finally able to see in a very focused way that there are many families just like ours who have decided to delay social media and smartphone use.
Mr Elachi decided to establish the alliance after he and wife Cynthia reluctantly agreed to give their 10-year-old daughter one of their old phones.
He said the negative change they saw in their eldest child was concerning.
“She inherited an iPhone from us when she was in Year 5 after we upgraded and we saw a change in her almost instantly,” he said.
“IT TOOK OVER EVERY SPARE MOMENT OF HER LIFE, THE PHONE WAS CONSTANTLY BUZZING, WE KNEW SHE WAS TAKING IT TO BED WITHOUT OUR KNOWLEDGE (AND USING IT) UNDER THE COVERS AT MIDNIGHT”
“It took over every spare moment of her life, the phone was constantly buzzing, we knew she was taking it to bed without our knowledge [and using it] under the covers at midnight.
“We have five kids and while some families might be able to manage this stuff we are both busy working parents and knew this was going to be a long road of arguments and pain.
“By luck, the phone malfunctioned and we used it as an opportunity to let her know she wasn’t getting another one.
“She cried that she was going to miss out on all the social interactions so it wasn’t an easy decision. But my wife and I thought that while technology comes with some social benefits, the negatives outweighed the positives.
“We aren’t coming from a ‘preachy’ angle. Some people think we are judgemental. But we’ve been there, we’ve made the mistake and we recognise how detrimental [these things] can be.
“We thought the only way we might be able to placate her was to reach out to other parents in her year group and say ‘Hey! Does anybody else have struggles with this and does anybody else want to join us?’
“It turns out there were a few – not many – but enough to form an alliance of parents who commit to each other that we will hold firm and not give smartphones to our kids. At least our kids will know they aren’t the only ones and that there is a minority of kids who are so-called missing out.
“We haven’t banned screens altogether. We’ve still got laptops, computers and iPads, but we just find it a lot easier to manage than a phone.
Letting kids be kids
“Today, two years down the track, our kids are social media-free and doing just fine.
“We would love other schools to create similar alliances within their communities and I think it has the potential to be some kind of movement.”
Kingsgrove mother-of-two Tracey Adamson has signed up to the alliance as she wants to protect her children’s childhoods.
The high school teacher at De La Salle College Ashfield said she doesn’t think screen time is good for kids – full stop.
“This is not about being anti-tech, I actually see it as a great tool, however I think we are forcing kids to use it far too young,” she said.
“All this is about is protecting their childhoods and letting kids be kids.
“We go to parties and friends’ kids will be pulling their phone out of their bags when there’s other kids to play with.
“As a teacher I see what happens when kids get hooked on tech.
“I don’t judge my friends, they’ve had to do what they have to survive in today’s world, I just personally don’t think kids need this sort of thing.”
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