O’Neill: Phones should not be banned from classrooms but they need to be regulated

Professor Siobhán O’Neill has said she would not advocate a ban on mobile phones on schools but policies need to be put in place on their use.
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The Derry-based mental health champion for the North told a recent briefing of the Stormont Education Committee that phones can be useful tools for pupils but argued that they must be carefully regulated.

"I do not recommend that we ban phones from school, but policies on the use of phones in school need to be implemented. That is one thing.

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"Some young people need their phone to feel safe. As adults, a lot of us can identify with that. As a security and safety measure, the phone needs to be there, but we need to have open discussions.

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"We need to talk to young people about what would work for them when using phones in school,” she said.

Prof. O’Neill warned however of the prevalence of potential harmful imagery on social media applications.

"Take the legislation on triggering images on social media, particularly images of self-harm and suicide and images promoting disordered eating, for example. Images are very triggering for compulsive behaviours.

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"If we can do anything, it is around image-based social media, because that has the strongest impact on young people's mental health, and giving young people the skills to manage relational stuff with the likes, messages and comments that they receive.”

The Claudy-native told the committee that the use or misuse of mobile phones can be addressed as part of relationships and sexuality education (RSE) in the classroom. Although parents and guardians also need to be involved, she said.

"That can be done through good relationships education. We need to listen to young people. Even I am a step removed; I do not really know what is going on.

"As parents, we need to be over the young person's shoulder, really with them, understanding them and having that relationship with them, so that they can tell us when things are going wrong and show us what they are looking at online so that we are aware too,” Prof. O’Neill told MLAs.

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