Tech-Free Schools and Home Lives

Did you hear the Radio 4 PM’s segment this week on growing up without the internet (also recently covered by the Guardian and the Telegraph)? The approach of banning all technology at school and home taken by the featured school actively terrifies me – let me explain why.

I’m always one for giving parents choice and it’s clear that there are parents out there, quite rightly, with concerns about children’s screen time, social media, internet safety. You could therefore conclude that a school that bans technology is just another option (one that clearly wouldn’t appeal to the majority) and if it has a market then fair enough – my Grandmother would be delighted! However, whilst I absolutely feel parents should have choice and it’s important to take their concerns about technology seriously, I believe that the approach taken by the school featured in this segment, long term, may be doing more harm than good.

From reading up about The London Acorn School it seems this school not only avoids all forms of technology at school (TV, electronic whiteboards, tablets, mobile phones, computers…) but also requires parents to ban these at home. For some aspects, like the internet, the ban remains until children are 16 years old!

From my experience, banning anything can in many cases have the opposite affect to the one intended. Tell children they can never have sweets and the chances are the first opportunity they get many will binge until they make themselves sick! Or those with slightly different characters will take their parents’ and school’s concerns incredibly seriously and spend their entire lives with a negative, fearful attitude towards technology – how is that helpful? Being tech-phobic for life is likely to be both socially and career limiting. I remember reading a wonderful article recently from a lady who had banned anything but healthy food for her children and was proud of how well this had gone until a time they went to a friend’s birthday party. She realised her children were too terrified to eat any of the party food, even just that once, because they considered it toxic and thought it would make them ill – they realised that her hard line meant that they weren’t getting to enjoy even simple childhood pleasures like birthday parties. She now let’s them have sweet/treats occasionally as part of a healthy diet. I think this school has taken an equally unhelpful hardline and would be better to advocate moderation and a healthy balance not an outright ban.

For many children, by banning something, you will also encourage them to hide their usage. It’s impractical to imagine that children in this school will never come across other people who do have access to technology and the chances are they will therefore use technology on the sly without the parents’ or schools knowledge (or protection / support / advice). Do you really want to encourage your children to start hiding things from you?

Not to mention the likely reaction of children to hypocrisy. Have the parents of these children also given up all technology? If not the chances are these children will seriously resent this double standard.

I recently attended the wonderful Digital Families conference looking at all the latest research on eSafety and raising children in a digital world. This and all the research I’ve read around this subject underlined the advice I always give which is how important it is for children to understand the potential dangers of the internet and how vital the role of both schools and parents is in this. Do we really think that banning technology, scaring children into thinking it’s evil and closing ourselves off from it until they are 16 is likely lead to children (and parents) who understand it and are resilient to its dangers? It would be a bit like instead of holding a child’s hand to cross the road and slowly teaching them road safely, to simply avoiding roads until they are 16 and then dropping them on one side of a busy highway alone! You are much better to start talking to your child at a young age about the internet’s advantages and dangers, and understand together how it fits in with all areas of life – rather than demonising it and shutting it in a box. That dialogue with a child is so important to ensuring one day they are safe to ‘cross the road’ on their own.

That doesn’t even get me started on the social implications of taking children away from technology. Like it or not use of technology is important to children’s social interaction – whether they are talking about what they’ve seen on TV, playing a game together, or interacting on social media technology adds something. No doubt when they are amongst peers with the same restrictions that’s less of a problem but is it a good idea to make your child a social outcast whenever they meet ‘new’ people outside their school circle (cousins, holiday friends etc etc – it’s unavoidable)?

All of that assumes technology / screen time is inherently bad which of course also isn’t true. I’ve talked about screen time many times before and I’ve scrutinised the research, and I’m yet to find anything convincing that suggests screen time in moderation is harmful. What the research does underline, over many unrelated studies, is that technology really can benefit children if used correctly as part of a ‘balanced play diet’ as we call it at Fundamentally Children.

If the concept was minimising technology, focusing on a younger age range, a short term ban or just banning at home or school not both then it could be an interesting debate but as it stands I feel strongly that the tech-free stance of this school is actively dangerous for children, preying on the fears of well-meaning parents and failing to prepare children (and their parents) for the modern world.

Tips and articles from Fundamentally Children that may be of interest:

Comments are closed.