### Uniting Parents for a Tech-Free Childhood

Ten days ago, following a discussion with a fellow mother from my 8-year-old daughter’s class regarding the idea of getting our children smartphones, I reached out to my friend Clare Fernyhough in a state of panic, questioning whether we should proceed with this decision.

Clare’s response was a resounding yes. Both of us being mothers to daughters, aged 8 and 9 respectively, we grappled with the realization that our children are on the verge of entering the realm of smartphones, a notion that felt both surreal and daunting.

Recent developments have unveiled plans to prohibit mobile phones in schools in England, granting educators more authority to address the disruptions caused by these devices on school grounds.

Presently in the UK, 55% of 8-11 year olds possess a mobile phone, with the ownership rate soaring to 97% among 12-year-olds. The societal pressure to provide your child with a phone is immense, typically occurring during the final years of primary school before the transition to secondary school. During this period, children increasingly migrate their social interactions to online platforms, including the coordination of gatherings, making a child without a phone feel excluded.

The dilemma arises from the desire to shield your child from potential ostracism stemming from a non-conformist parenting choice, while also safeguarding them from the perils of online bullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and the anxiety induced by social media and incessant scrolling. Unlike a decade ago, the mounting scientific evidence now unequivocally indicates that the younger a child is when introduced to a mobile phone, the greater the risk of mental health issues.

Faced with the overwhelming societal pressure to conform while harboring deep-seated reservations, Clare and I initiated the movement “Parents United for a Smartphone Free Childhood” on WhatsApp. Our aim was to foster a sense of solidarity and empower each other to resist succumbing to a norm that contradicted our instincts.

Initially comprising just the two of us, the group rapidly expanded. I took to Instagram to express my sentiments, inviting like-minded individuals to join us, which triggered a deluge of responses. Esteemed figures such as Woman’s Hour presenter Emma Barnett, columnist Bryony Gordon, Carrie Johnson, and actress Sophie Winkleman rallied behind our cause, igniting a fervent discussion on the societal expectations surrounding children and smartphones.

The overwhelming response led us to transform the WhatsApp group into a community to accommodate more participants and encouraged the formation of regional groups nationwide. Witnessing these groups sprout across various regions was a heartening moment, underscoring the widespread resonance of our shared concerns.

As momentum surged and offers of support poured in, Clare and I deliberated on the most effective strategies to harness this collective energy. While contemplating various initiatives, we recognized the value of collaborating with existing organizations like Delay Smartphones, which have long championed a parent pledge. Our focus shifted towards fostering local alliances within children’s classes to alleviate peer pressure and facilitate open dialogues among parents.

Within a span of ten days, our initiative has garnered 5,000 members across WhatsApp groups, urging them to establish Smartphone Free Childhood groups within their respective schools. By fostering grassroots conversations and initiatives like the town-wide ‘no-smartphone code’ implemented in Greystones, Ireland, we aim to drive meaningful change from the bottom up.

The impetus for change lies not with corporate entities profiting from children’s screen time, but with us—the parents and communities advocating for a childhood free from excessive smartphone use. If you share our belief that childhood should not be consumed by screens, we invite you to join us in this movement.

For more information, visit smartphonefreechildhood.co.uk or follow us on Instagram @smartphonefreechildhood.

Link to find your local WhatsApp group

Image: Daisy Greenwell and her husband Joe Ryrie by Alistair Bartlett.