Guernsey Press

Banning smartphones for under-16s ‘unrealistic’ – Dudley-Owen

BANNING smartphones for under-16s would be ‘unrealistic’, Education president Andrea Dudley-Owen has said.

Education president Deputy Andrea Dudley Owen. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 33301638)

She said that an outright ban would be a overly simplistic response to a complex issue.

‘There are many considerations,’ she said.

‘Would this be only the hardware? What constitutes “smart” in this context? What would be the likely administrative costs of any regime? Is there potential for a black market? If it is a ban on the software i.e. social media app usage, how do we as a lone, very small jurisdiction do this? And what are the implications for our relationship with the UK and alignment with other jurisdictions?’

Deputy Dudley-Owen, a mother of three, said she had been criticised in the past for calling for parents of very young children to put down their devices and spend more time speaking and engaging with their children.

‘I know parenting can be a challenge and a juggle,’ she said.

‘In Guernsey, however, there is growing evidence that the increasing use of devices as entertainment, or worse still as the digital “babysitter”, is having an impact on the speech and language development of very small children, and we see this when they are starting out in formal education.’

She added that during the last political term she had spent four years as the lead for digital and skills for the Economic Development Committee.

‘Much consideration was given to balancing security on the one hand, with the beneficial use of technology on the other,’ she said.

‘It is this balance, critically in my view for our young people, that we must strive to achieve.

‘As with many things however, overuse, misuse and abuse create negative outcomes and this is where we need to provide a structure and guidance for our young people.’

‘It is also of significant concern to me that children and young people have been and are still subject to harmful content which can affect them in so many negative ways. Young people deserve an adolescence free from this influence and instead need the influence of strong, positive real-world role models.’

She said that Guernsey now benefitted from the effects of the recent UK Online Safety Bill, which seeks to protect users from coming across illegal and harmful content.

Deputy Dudley-Owen said she was convinced there is a link between the rise in anxiety and the increased use of smartphones by young people.

‘American psychologist Jonathan Haidt has pulled together research to prove this and one of the things he says as an antidote to this increase resonates strongly with me and our island situation,’ she said.

‘We need to give our children more independence and responsibility. The freedom that we can give our children here in Guernsey due to the security we enjoy, is difficult to find in many other places.

‘However, we could further reduce that by giving our children and young people more independence to explore their environment, which inevitably leads to building real-world connections and real-world community, which in Guernsey is so strong, rather than becoming lost in virtual ones.’