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Mobile phone addiction harming children's health and education

Exhausted school children are struggling by on just two hours of sleep because of their mobile phone addiction.

mobile phone research

A new study by researchers at Leeds Beckett University examined the mobile phone use of 594 students aged 11-18.

Most said they regularly check their phones during family meals, doing homework and even during school lessons.

While 96% said they checked their phones every two minutes, 85% said they spent between four and six hours a day online.

Two thirds said they were getting between two and four hours of sleep a night because of their addiction to mobile phones.

Almost all (98%) said they would struggle to cope if their phones were taken off them. Some admitted that being without their phones could cause them extreme anxiety and might even lead to physical confrontations.

Teachers have also been surveyed, with one reporting that pupils were known to have walked out of lessons to take calls from their parents.

The research was carried out by Professor Jonathan Glazzard and Samuel Stones at the university’s Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools, part of the Carnegie School of Education.

Their survey was distributed nationally to schools and colleges that work in partnership with the university.

Professor Glazzard said: “Our research demonstrates that adolescents are attached to their phones during the night.

“They are desperate to network and keep up-to-date with their online peers. This results in broken sleep and tiredness during the school day.

“Adolescents need approximately 8-10 hours sleep but our research demonstrates that some get as little as two hours of sleep.

“These students attend school in a state of exhaustion. They are too tired to concentrate and it affects their learning and their behaviour.

“Disengagement in lessons results in them falling behind in their schoolwork and they then develop other problems such as low confidence and low self-worth.

“Realtime social connections are vital for positive wellbeing. Schools play a key role in teaching young people about how to stay healthy and in particular, the need for sleep.

“However, parents also play a critical role in supporting young people to develop positive habits through setting boundaries.

“Examples of boundaries might include restricting access to technology in bedrooms and at mealtimes.

“Also, parents need to be good role models by ensuring that they do not allow technology to interrupt conversations and other daily experiences.”

The research suggests that while young people are addicted to their technology, they also skilled at multi-tasking.

However, they are less skilled at maintaining concentration for a long period of time on a single task.

The data also suggest that so-called “technoference” increases with age, with older students admitting that they are more likely to be distracted by their technology. There was no significant difference between gender.

Researcher Mr Stones, who is also a senior teacher at Norton College in North Yorkshire, said it was worrying that family life was being interrupted by technology, which was also having an impact on a pupil’s ability to learn.

“Whilst technology has significant benefits, continual use of technology can impact detrimentally on the quality of people’s interactions and conversations.

“We live in a society where people are constantly attached to their technology. People interact with technology on public transport, in meetings and during leisure time rather than engaging in productive, meaningful conversations.

“It seems that people would rather interact with a phone rather than having a conversation and whilst this is not necessarily a problem in some contexts, it can have a negative impact in other contexts.

“For example, young children require social interaction with adults. This allows them to develop secure attachments with significant others, it enables them to learn about the world and through conversation children are exposed to language.

“Exposure to language underpins reading and writing development. Children who have rich exposure to language become better readers, better writers and understand far better what they are reading.

“Lack of exposure to language can impact detrimentally on the structure of the brain. This can create reading difficulties and even lead to difficulties which are consistent with dyslexia, even though the difficulties may not have a genetic origin.

“The brain is malleable. It is responsive to environmental influences and lack of exposure to language can impact on phonological and phonemic awareness.

“Both of these skills play a critical role in reading development. Interacting with technology can restrict opportunities for communication between babies, children and their parents and can interrupt the flow of normal conversation.”

Main survey findings:
• 92% reported that they regularly check their phones during the night
• 67% got between 2 to 4 hours sleep due to checking their phones
• 85% regularly check their phones during family meals
• 82% regularly check their phones during days out with their family
• 95% regularly check their phones when they are socialising with friends
• 97% regularly check their phones whilst doing their homework
• 70% discretely check their phones during lesson time
• 98% said that they would find it difficult to cope if they had their phone confiscated
• 96% said that on average they check their phones every two minutes
• 85% spend between 4 to 6 hours a day online

Reasons for using technology - sample quotes from the survey:
• I check my phone to stay in touch with my friends and I like to know what is going on with my friends. (respondent aged 16)
• I don’t like to miss out on things with my friends. I like to be part of the conversation. (age 15)
• I sometimes find conversations boring at home. It is more interesting to talk to my friends. (age 17)
• If I am not online with my friends I worry that they will not want to be my friend anymore. They want me to ‘like’ their posts and if I am not online I might forget to do this. (age 13)
• I like to play games. I have a favourite game that I like to play with and I try to beat my score. It is a bit addictive so I am on my phone all the time. (age 12)

Young people recognised some of the dangers of being online - sample quotes:
• I have experienced cyberbullying. People say nasty things to you online and they say things that they would not say to your face. I try to not respond to offensive comments but it is difficult. (age 14)
• I have been bullied online because people have criticised my appearance. (age 15)
• I have been cyber-bullied because people don’t like my friends and then other people have bullied me online because they think I should not be friends with these people. (age 17)
• I am gay and quite out online and people have attacked me online because of this. (age 18)

The researchers said the comments illustrate the need for schools to continue to educate young people about how to conduct themselves online.

Professor Glazzard said: "It is important that young people understand their responsibilities as digital citizens.

"It is also important that young people are taught digital literacy skills so that they know how to block perpetrators of abuse, how to report abuse and how to keep their accounts safe.

"It is worrying that the respondents identified that they discretely check their phones during lesson times.

"Our research with teachers has indicated that teachers respond to this by confiscating phones during lessons.

"However, this results in a breakdown of relationships between teachers and students and the situation can become confrontational.

"Teachers have told us that they would prefer their schools to have a total ban on mobile phones because it would appear that when schools allow children to use phones in lessons to support their learning, students often use this as an opportunity to go on social media.

Teachers - sample quotes:
• I have had parents phoning students during lessons and students standing up and walking out of class to take the call. When this is challenged the situation becomes confrontational. Parents need to respect students time in school as an academic learning space and they should not contact their child. If they need to contact them then they should telephone the school office.
Another said:
• When I ask them to look something up on their phone they go onto Facebook instead.

Professor Glazzard added: "Parents may resist total bans on technology because they might need to contact their child after school.

"We are aware of primary schools that collect phones in at the start of the day and then store them in a secure place.

"The phones are then given back to children at the end of the day. This works well. This is too difficult to do in a large secondary school but our research with teachers indicates that schools that adopt a strict policy of insisting that phones are turned off during the day and kept in students’ bags tend to have fewer problems."

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