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We give assemblies on how easy it is via the internet for someone to know what any given pupil looks like and everything about them in a matter of minutes in the hope of scaring them. But they are kids. They just don’t realise how dangerous this stuff is. I give them assemblies where I tell them about poor Breck Bednar, whose mother must forever wish she had never allowed him online to play games with his friends, including with one outsider whom she didn’t know. In the end, although she expressed her concerns to the police, they couldn’t or wouldn’t help her, and her lovely 14-year-old boy had his throat slit by that young man she had never met.

Never before have we allowed our children to be so vulnerable to the dangers of the world. The pressure on them to use their phones to send each other nude photos of themselves is immense. Bizarrely, we still put the porn magazines on the top shelf in the shops while real live porn on video is readily available to children on their phones.

For years I thought that the video game called Grand Theft Auto was about stealing cars. What I didn’t know was that stealing cars is the least worrying of the crimes one has to commit when playing the game. Lap dancing by girls or hiring prostitutes and then killing them are among its various activities. Sure, the game carries an 18 certificate, but many 13-year-old boys play it. Jean Twenge, an American psychologist, has been analysing teen behaviour for decades. She says, “All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness.” It is reassuring to know that the sugar-rush of “killing prostitutes” does not make children happy in the long run.

The disease of technology is spreading. As with all diseases, it hits the poor first and hardest.  Unless we do something soon, things will only get worse. The iPhone came out in 2007. Affordable Android phones have only been around for a few years. The teenagers of 2018 did not begin life with a smartphone. Nowadays, toddlers do.

So what should we do about it? Cigarettes are sold with a big warning on the packet saying “Hazardous to your health”. Why not force the big tech companies to do the same with advice on how to use devices less?

At school we have suggested software (some paid for, some free) to prevent access to certain websites on home computers. I would like to introduce a parent tech information meeting at the beginning of Year Seven to advise parents on how to place parameters on phone use, including banning phones in bedrooms and using an alarm clock instead.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is worried about online addiction among children and he needs official backing from his cabinet colleagues. While it is great that government is investing in a £5 million scheme to train primary school staff to spot mental health problems, we need to be thinking about what is causing the spike in these problems in the first place.

The Pied Piper of WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube is leading us to the edge of the cliff. We are sleepwalking into disaster and must act before it is too late.  
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March 3rd, 2018
1:03 PM
Excellent article Totally agree with all points. Despaired for years watching in classroom 5 minutes work out of 40 minutes lesson. Tragedy is devices have assistive tools which are ignored / not used by those with literacy or numeracy LD. Would add: Funds for smartphone and plan mean less for nutritious food. What to do in USA ? where students have device as life saving tool to warn of lockdowns, keep in touch caregiver

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