Watching kids kick a ball around in a park is exactly what these parents want to see. Not eyes on the latest TikTok viral share or WhatsApp gossip thread.
In an attempt to minimize screen time and encourage a complete ban on social media until at least one child is 14, a group of parents in St George have formed a pact. They say a firm “no”.
All member families of The Heads Up Alliance have collectively agreed not to give their children access to apps such as Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.
The alliance was formed by parents whose children attend Our Lady of Fatima Primary School and St Ursula’s Kingsgrove. More than 30 children have signed up, and with little rebellion parents say.
It’s putting the power back in our hands.
Heads Up Alliance Member, Cynthia Elachi
Alliance member Dany Elachi, from Bexley, said it was concerning that screen time behavior had changed dramatically during COVID-19, especially among young children.
“We’re talking about 3rd or 4th grade kids with smart phones,” he said. “It has become a serious problem because of the pandemic. We have already lost so many face-to-face interactions because of the confinement. Home schooling has made the problem more pressing.”
He said that while families haven’t completely avoided screen time in their homes, they’ve given up on social media use altogether.
“We have mutually committed to delay granting smartphones and social media accounts to our children,” he said. “We help each other because as adults we are addicted so it’s hard for us to regulate. The parents are worried but they seem a bit lost. Some members of the alliance are teachers and they see firsthand the extent of the problem with digital devices in the classroom.”
Mr Elachi said the longer they could delay using social media, the better.
“In our family, we have many digital tablets floating around the house, but we drew the line at smart phones,” he said. “Kids have them in their pockets, they wear them at night before bed and don’t get enough sleep before school. We’re trying to monitor what we think is toxic to kids.”
The idea is to extend the alliance to other schools.
“We would like other schools in St George to create similar alliances within their communities,” Mr Elachi said. “We’re just moms and dads and we’ve got a long way to go, but I think this has the potential to be a kind of movement.”
Kingsgrove’s mother, Vivian Munoz, said it was about creating balance.
“We don’t have a total ban on screen time. My kids still play video games, but our laptops are only for work,” she said. “My eldest is responsible and understands there is a set time. I have boys so my concern is access to porn through social media.”
Alliance member and parent Cynthia Elachi said bullying on social media was a growing problem.
“It’s a battle when kids continue to engage with each other online. It puts the power back in our hands,” she said.
A recent study from Deakin University found that children have been spending more time on smartphones, digital tablets and computers since the start of the pandemic. Alarmingly, the largest age group that showed the biggest increases was people between the ages of five and 12.
Our Life at Home study researcher Lauren Arundell said the trend was particularly concerning for elementary school children.
“We’ve seen significantly less informal play and outdoor recreational activity. Screen time has been associated with poorer social development and social connections in children, so it’s important that these long periods screen time doesn’t become normalized behavior,” Dr Arundell said. “If these new habits take hold, it can be hard to go back.”
Chris Minns, MP for Kogarah and NSW Labor leader, said he would support the “throwing out” of all children’s phones.
“I worry about the impact of devices on our children. Our children are becoming guinea pigs for large, sophisticated social media companies,” he wrote in one of his previous opinion pieces, published in the Leader.
“Parents, we need to work together. Acting together can relieve some of the social pressure on our children to be online.”