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Headmaster's Blog - Mobile Phones: A Student Reflects

Last term, my blog focused on mobile phone usage at school, it’s impact on the young people in our care and the work we were doing – in collaboration with students – to develop a new, fit-for-purpose mobile phone policy. As teachers, we have grappled with getting the right balance between the many benefits (and obvious good fun) that come from a mobile device, with the very real mental and physical health risks bad habits can create. So, when I heard one of our Sixth Formers, Will, give his own thoughts on the matter, during a recent house assembly, I was thoroughly heartened. His reflections, which I thought were incredibly mature and measured, showed me that the messages about good behaviours are getting through, and it gave me hope that young people are often more switched on about this than we give them credit for! Over to Will…

From an assembly address by Will, Sixth Form (published with his kind permission)

In the absence of anything pressing in the news this week, Mr Beavis has suggested I discuss a problem that is evident in the house and across the world at the moment: mobile phone addiction.

In Sixth Form assembly on Saturday, Mr Yates briefly mentioned phone addiction and showed an image that a lot of people laughed at. It was two images of a brain. One showed the brain after being on a mobile phone and using social media, the other showed the brain after the subject took cocaine. They were very similar. Although this seems ridiculous and your phone obviously won’t have the same impact on your behaviour as cocaine, having researched it, this link between drug addiction and phone addiction, does not seem so stupid.

Mobile phones are a fantastic and useful tool, allowing us to stay in touch with people and work far more efficiently. However, it is the other uses of phones that can be problematic. Wherever we feel that there is a blank space in our lives, we try to fill it, and phones are the perfect way to do that. If we ever have a spare free moment, we are on our phones on social media or on a game. This massively reduces productivity and our ability for deep thought. Excessive phone use nullifies the brain and makes us shallower, as we pour numerous hours into what is effectively a black hole of thought which is not creative or productive. In the way that fast food is enjoyable to consume but not good for your physical health, phone use is enjoyable but is not good for your mental health.

There are three main signs of phone addiction. The first is a disregard for negative consequences. I think we have all had a moment (I know I have) when we have sent a dodgy message that we instantly regret, because it is so easy just to hit a send button. This is effectively that experience. But, if we do it enough, we start to stop caring about negative consequences in real life. It is easy to forget that carelessness on a phone has real repercussions.

The next sign is anxiety as a result of phone use. It has been scientifically proven that phone notifications cause our brains to release a chemical called dopamine, which brings us back to the earlier point about cocaine. While one notification may cause you to release dopamine, that soon becomes unsatisfactory. Our minds, and our happiness become more and more dependent on it until we can’t be satisfied which leads to feelings of anxiety. This is like being in a state of drug addiction.

The next sign is a lack of impulse control. We automatically get our phones out at every opportunity. This would be okay if it wasn’t for the fact that our brains adjust so drastically to phone use. The simplicity of using a phone can cause us to ‘turn off’ and lose focus. No matter how good you think you are at multitasking, it is almost impossible to focus on anything else while being on a phone. There have been times while I’ve been watching a film and, as it gets a bit slower, I have got my phone out. I expect that it will only be for a few seconds and I won’t miss anything, but the adjustment of the brain is such that I cannot focus on the film at all if I am on my phone, meaning I have to rewind what I missed. If it can be so disruptive in the passive experience of watching a film, imagine what it can do for something like revision, reading, or doing work.

I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to overusing my phone, I probably checked it three or four times while writing this speech. I don’t think it is something to necessarily be ashamed of, because it is such a widespread issue, and the research into it is limited at the moment. But it is obvious that to work better, focus more effectively and better develop our thoughts, it is essential that we cut down on phone use. This can be as easy as cutting down on phone use at certain times. For example, I solved my film problem by not having my phone in the room when I’m watching a film. Turning off notifications has also been a help. Using phones in lessons is not something I do, but a lot of others do. All this achieves is reducing concentration and means you are less receptive and so you will not learn or develop your ideas. From my experience, and seeing other people, I am convinced that if phones were cut out entirely during times that we are working or revising, exam results would improve hugely.

In the school environment, it is massively important that phone use is reduced because it is a hindrance on our creativity, our intelligence, our attention span and, most importantly, our happiness.