- 29 Jun 18
If we starve school students of the use of their mobiles during the day, is there not a likelihood that they will binge later on – when the worst cyber-bullying occurs? By Hot Press Write Here, Write Now winner, Niamh Browne – who is currently awaiting her Leaving Cert results!
The Education (Digital Devices in School) Bill proposes that secondary school students must hand in their mobile phones at the start of the school day. Minister Richard Bruton says he supports the bill, which – among other things – aims to reduce cyber bullying.
I have to admit that I wrote this essay already. This precise issue came up in a question on the Leaving Certificate Higher Level French paper this year. I, of course, adamantly agreed with this new rule – and used the entire essay to explain in very basic French that the modern mobile phone is unadulterated poison. I did all of this in the hope that, on a sweltering day in July, some poor corrector would give me a higher mark if I was a lick-arse. Guess what, though? This new bill is not something I support.
INDELIBLY WRITTEN DOWN
Most of us have perfectly healthy relationships with our phones. We use them, we enjoy them, they keep us connected. We tweet the odd joke on Twitter, count our daily steps or take a picture or two. Phones are like food. The people who have unhealthy relations with them, metaphorically speaking, are either the starved or the obese. Most people take using them in their stride.
Phones, whatever your stance on them, are a pervasive presence in our society now. Children born today will have their entire lives chronicled online – from their parents sharing baby pictures in WhatsApp group chats, to their own first ever phone, to their entire work lives’ email history. It has to be accepted that from now on we will have secondary “shadow lives” online. These shadow lives can be manipulated to hurt and shame us. No one is more vulnerable to this than teenagers.
How we react to this is crucial. The handing-in of phones at the start of the school day is not a solution. Withdrawal is not coping. Cyber bullying is such a terrible phenomenon because its goes beyond the classroom walls. In the past you could always leave the bully in school: now the bully can access you right before you go to bed. The nasty messages are not sent from 9 am to 3.30pm. No one posts revenge porn on their mid-morning break. The bullying is done at peak times, when everyone is online. The worst part of cyber bullying is that these hurtful words are permanent, written down indelibly and read in your own voice.
Given that these devices will be part of our working lives – and our private lives – for the foreseeable future is it not important that students learn moderation independently? It makes no sense to starve yourself of phones for six hours only to binge them for another six. Your time in education not only teaches you your ‘minus b’ formula or Shakespearian quotes, it provides you with an environment to explore social etiquette.
Never again in your life will you develop as much physically and mentally while being exposed to so many people. I think that this context helps you, or should help you, to learn how to be a decent person – and how to be a decent person should include how to be a decent person in cyber relations.
I feel this bill will do nothing, either to reduce cyber-bullying or to teach people how to use their phones in a responsible way. I truly believe that going cold turkey on our mobile phones is not any kind of coping mechanism.
• Niamh Browne was the recipient of a special award for Outstanding Achievement in Hot Press’ Write Here, Write Now 2018 competition, run in association with Creative Ireland, and supported by Canon and PayPal. She recently finished her Leaving Cert in Mount Mercy College Cork.