opinion

"A Sydney school has banned mobile phones, and it's the best decision they could have made."

Mobile phones are a drug, and not just in a metaphorical sense.

Using a phone increases our levels of the feel good chemical dopamine, the chemical our brain rewards us with when we eat delicious food, have sex, engage in social interactions, exercise and take illicit drugs.

Posting a photo on Instagram and receiving likes, or receiving a text message results in dopamine hits without the hard work that goes into creating meaningful relationships or completing a difficult workout.

To paraphrase the words of Simon Sinek, allowing teenagers unbridled access to mobile phones and social media is equivalent to leaving the liquor cabinet open.

Research from San Diego University published in 2017 found that an increase in screen time resulted in depressive symptoms and increased risk of suicide. The study found that teens who spend over five hours a day online are 71% more likely to have a suicide risk factor, such as depression, or even a suicide attempt.

, who was a professor in the study, explained for The Conversation that while the mobile phones may not be entirely responsible, time online crowds out the opportunity to engage in meaningful activities that contribute to wellbeing. Time online can lead to less time bonding with friends and less sleep: two factors that contribute to depression. 

This week Newington College in Sydney’s Inner West banned mobile phones, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. They cited the reasons as lower concentration, higher stress levels and “warped views on reality”.

It’s a sensible and important decision, and one that I’m familiar with from my own time at school.

When I graduated in 2013, I had enjoyed my high school years in two different phone free schools.

If we were caught on our phones at lunch or in class, it would be swiftly confiscated.

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In addition to that, websites such as Facebook and even MySpace were banned on the school intranet, meaning even if we managed to keep our phones hidden, we couldn’t access social media.

At the time, I was frustrated. In retrospect, I am incredibly grateful.

The hours that I might have spent on my phone were instead hours I spent bonding with my best friends.

We would spend lunch time talking to each other, exploring, and making up games (even if they did involve hitting apples out the window with a tennis racket).

We would spend afternoons before sport dressing up in funny outfits, and at risk of sounding nostalgic, we would occasionally climb trees.

If we were caught distracted in class, it was because we were giggling with the person beside us… in real life.

Without mobile phones, learning became a habit, and as I studied for the HSC I would make my parents take my mobile phone off me. There were bigger fish to fry.

Teenagers have become addicted to mobile phones, yet they are unable to even recognise it as an addiction.

Schools would not allow children to bring alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes to school, so they should not allow mobile phones.

The risk is much too high.

If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Kid’s Helpline on 1800 551 800. 

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