How the iphone generation of teenagers can benefit from good character education more than ever
Guest blog by Tenax Schools Trust CEO, Ian Bauckham CBE
A few weeks ago the Daily Telegraph published a front page story featuring some comments I made about the dangers of constant mobile phone use among teenagers with some advice to parents on how best to model moderate internet use. The feedback from this article was mixed, though the majority I spoke to thought it was high time the constant and ubiquitous use of smartphones by young people was tackled.
Around the year 2012, not exactly ancient history, a tipping point was reached in smart phone ownership. Today it is the exception to find a teenager who does not own a smart phone. And in that time the world teenagers inhabit has changed markedly. All observations about ‘teenagers’ are necessarily generalisations, and there will always be notable exceptions, but large scale studies on both sides of the Atlantic do identify some significant general trends:
This sample of general characteristics of current teenagers clearly presents some challenges, and, while not all of it is directly attributable to internet use, much has happened since constant internet access became normal. A recent study in England found that by the age of 7, children will have spent an average of 4 hours a day looking at screens, twice the amount of time spent playing outdoors.
So what should our response be? Some approaches focus on restricting internet access or use. In France, from this September, mobiles have been banned in all schools, and many schools in England are following suit. At Bennett we do not allow mobile phones to be used in school. There is growing pressure on internet companies to restrict content available to young people. These approaches have their place and may often be helpful. However, we cannot ‘uninvent’ the internet or smartphones, so learning to manage, regulate and live alongside the internet needs to become a priority. There is certainly scope for greater understanding of the impact of unregulated use of the internet by young people to enable parents to play a stronger and better informed role.
In schools, there is much more that can be done alongside banning mobiles (which, while effective for 6 hours a day, does not prevent them from being used for the other 18 hours). While the focus of schools has rightly been the quality of academic learning and accountability for academic outcomes, we also need to be clear that the formation of young people’s character is also a critical purpose for education, and, indeed, properly understood is inseparable from a good academic education. Good character development and formation for all young people can rebalance some of the negative effects of excessive internet use and can result in young people using their time differently.
So what does character education mean? ‘Good character’ is complex, but I would like to suggest some priorities for schools to help develop character.
The hyperconnected world in which teenagers now live, far from making traditional approaches to character development superfluous, actually make it radically more important that schools understand the importance of character education and its inseparability from good academic education. Only in this way can schools genuinely claim to be places where the next generation is formed.