As a teacher, I know the damage phones do to kids. But this new ban won’t make a shred of difference

<span>‘If smartphones have exacerbated the mental health crisis among young people, then what has a decade of cuts to the health service done?’</span><span>Photograph: Sol Stock Ltd/Getty Images</span>
‘If smartphones have exacerbated the mental health crisis among young people, then what has a decade of cuts to the health service done?’Photograph: Sol Stock Ltd/Getty Images

Look around next time you are out and you will see that children’s addiction to smartphones nowadays often begins long before they’ve started school. By the age of 12, 97% of children will own their own phone. There is a growing body of evidence pointing to an alarming link between the time children spend on smartphones, and the access they provide to social media, with the likelihood of experiencing bullying, problems with self-esteem and even self-harm. So, in a bid to curb the damage to the next generation, the government has now issued statutory guidance on prohibiting their use in schools altogether.

As a (reluctantly) online millennial, I grew up alongside the internet. Our relationship has developed from chatting on MSN and playing Club Penguin on the clunky PC in the corner of the dining room (so long as my mum didn’t need to use the landline), to the iPhone that now lives in my pocket, seems as attached to my body as my own limbs and contains much of what I need to survive. But I am also a secondary school teacher, and you only need a single break-time spent dealing with the drama caused by a social-media comment to conclude that phones in the classroom bring nothing but disruption to what should be a calm and safe place of learning.

So I’m all for banning phones in schools. But am I excited by this move from the government to prohibit them? No. The new guidance masks the real problems at play. To tackle these, we’ll need a lot more than vague advice handed down to schools that are mostly already adopting these measures anyway. Here’s the crux of the issue: schools already ban phones because it is common sense.

It would be impossible to teach students who had their phones out. Not even the best of the Bard could capture a teenager’s attention more than a viral TikTok clip, and I certainly wouldn’t want a phone in my face as I have a standoff with a child over a uniform violation. What’s more, we’d be doing a pretty poor job of our legal obligation to support the pastoral development of our students if we allowed devices associated with increased bullying and self-esteem issues to be used freely in schools.

Related: ‘Not letting me on Snapchat was the best thing my mum ever did for me’: how to talk to your kids about social media

This new guidance is a bit like the government establishing a ban on anyone leaving their front door wide open at night. Nobody does it anyway, because it neither makes sense nor is conducive to our own safety. The more troubling issue is that the government has made a scapegoat out of smartphones when the problem and its causes lie closer to home. Smartphones are often accused of helping to fuel the mental health crisis among young people. If smartphones have exacerbated this, then what has a decade of cuts to the health service done?

More than a third of young people report receiving no mental health support when visiting their GP, and there are record numbers of children waiting to access mental health services. When the NHS and schools are stretched beyond their means, the pastoral and psychological support that young people need becomes nonexistent and the impact of smartphones becomes all the more dangerous. Is it any wonder that when youth clubs and extracurricular opportunities have been cut back after years of austerity, young people turn to their phones?

What’s more, this purported ban lumbers schools with even more work when they are already on their knees. The school system is emaciated, and staff are already working with limited resources; being responsible for confiscating phones is yet another job to add to the list for overburdened teachers. Sadly, this non-policy seems less like an attempt to rectify serious problems, and more like a way to mask the harmful results of decisions the government has made over the past 14 years.

I would far rather it put more funding into ensuring young people have safe places to socialise, safe outlets for their emotions aside from their phones, help when they need it and to learn how to use technology for their own benefit. As it stands, this simplistic ban does nothing to solve these wider problems.

  • Nadeine Asbali is a secondary school teacher in London