Banning Smartphones ‘Not The Answer’ To Tackling Cyber Bullying In Schools

The NSW government's announcement of a review into smartphone use in schools has sparked debate.

A ban on smartphones in NSW schools is not the answer to tackling cyber bullying, a psychologist says. 

The NSW government on Thursday announced a review into technological devices in schools that would, among other issues, consider restricting smartphone use at a primary level.

“While smartphones connect us to the world in ways never imagined just a decade ago, they raise issues that previous generations have not had to deal with,” Education Minister Rob Stokes said.

Education minister Rob Stokes announced the state-wide review on Thursday. Image: AAP

The Australia-first review, led by child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, was prompted by rising complaints from parents, teachers and academics around cyber bullying and the ways young people are interacting online.

While it has been welcomed, some researchers are concerned about its scope, arguing the finger is often pointed at young people. 

“We have a lot of work to do in the bullying space, but banning phones in schools will not solve the problem, it will only shift the problem to other areas,” psychologist Jocelyn Brewer, from the University of Sydney’s Cyber Psychology Research Group, told ten daily.

“I’m happy to have a review, absolutely. But we need to be careful about the way we pathologise the use of technology -- and young people, in particular.

“We often don’t take responsibility for the fact that we’re the ones who have put the technology in the hands of kids." 

Brewer has spent years advocating for the need to teach digital citizenship and literacy in schools. 

“There’s a lot of literature that shows banning doesn’t change bullying behaviour. We need to instead be teaching them skills about what it means to be a human online, what our responsibilities are and how we act when we don’t have face-to-face communication,” she said.

“It’s about how you choose to use these tools in an empowering way. How do you stand up to bullying and hate online?

“You need to practice living a life with technology for these skills to develop.”

While the review stemmed from an investment in addressing cyber-bullying, the education minister stressed it would broadly consider other areas such as screen time and online safety, including the use of Snapchat and Instagram.

“Schools need to have better rules in place around phones,” Stokes said.

He said both the risks and rewards of smartphones will be reviewed, with teachers, parents and students being consulted.

“Every school I visit has anecdotal examples about their perils or positives surrounding the use of smartphones and other devices in schools,” he said.

“Principals are adopting a range of approaching to manage their use, and we want to ensure we provide the best possible advice to help them support their students and parents.

“It is important that we examine parameters around their use in schools to ensure that they are not a distraction from learning.”

Brewer said she is hopeful such issues that promote "meaningful and authentic" experiences with technology would be considered.

“We’ll have to wait and see," she said.