A wake-up call to us all
Trapped in Ikea recently, on my annual crusade for tea light candles, elderflower cordial and the will to live, one thing was clear: we are a nation of “nomophobes”. Looking around the food hall, at almost every table were people glued to their mobile phones as they hunched over meatballs and lingonberry jam.
There was an almost eerie silence as everyone ignored each other and scrolled (not the cinnamon version).
The war is over, people. We’re lying to ourselves if we think we can wean ourselves off screens.
So the government’s attempts to ban “screenagers” from their phones at school seems futile — and hypocritical.
How can we tell students to lock away their phones for the day, while we adults waste hours sucked into Instagram story vacuums, Facebook creeping and Twitter spats?
A typical family scene now features parents unable to ignore the ting of a message and constantly checking emails. Our children, by pure primal nature, follow suit.
If you’ve seen a two-year-old open and close iPad apps with finger-flicking dexterity, you know the feeling — a mix of astonishment, pride and guilt.
Surely this misuse and overuse of technology at home has a far greater detriment than whether phones are allowed at school.
Who are we kidding? When have teenagers ever respected patronising blanket bans? When we tell them drinking is bad as we reach for another stubbie?
When I was in Year 11 on exchange to a school in France, the local 16- and 17-year-olds would sip a small beer at the pub at lunch as they perused exam notes.
What did a group of Aussie teens do when presented with this scenario? Tequila, bien sur.
Our hysterical embrace of sudden French freedoms got to the point that our supervising teacher would lap the centre of town, hanging out the car window screaming “defense de fumer” if he spotted us smoking.
When we hosted our French siblings, we exposed them to the local tradition of a high school party. To us, it was the usual affair — a couple of hundred teens invading a suburban garden clutching soft drink bottles filled with Bundy Rum, bodies in bushes, projectile vomiting, an inevitable fist fight and the police called. To the Frenchies, it was disgraceful.
They had been raised from a young age to respectfully enjoy alcohol as a normal complement to a meal. To them, binge drinking was appalling.
Perhaps it’s time we adopted a more French attitude. With nine out of 10 Aussie teens now owning a mobile, surely a critical yet positive approach to smartphones might prove more valuable than locking away phoneless students in towers.
The new Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child will be led by QUT education Professor Susan Danby, who says that while she understands the concerns, she has seen mobiles used creatively in schools by students photographing algorithms or to Facetime other students about projects.
Maybe this is the solution — treating mobiles as necessary and powerful tools of learning.
Rather than castrophise our reliance on phones, we should be hopeful, even excited, about the ways they can help advance education. Because a quick scan of society shows none of us will be giving up mobiles any time soon.
It’s time to accept we’ve lost the fight to limit our kids’ screentime and embrace digital positives.