Children checking phones 'every two minutes', researchers at Leeds Beckett University find

Academics at Leeds Beckett University have carried out the research
Academics at Leeds Beckett University have carried out the research

Children's attachment to technology is impacting on their ability to learn, academics warn, in the wake of findings that over two thirds of children are checking their mobile phone in the classroom.

Children are experiencing broken sleep, anxiety, and disengagement from lessons as a result of constantly checking for updates, researchers at Leeds Beckett University have found.

Surveying nearly 600 secondary students, they found that young people were particularly attached to their phones at night - resulting in tiredness in the classroom and impacting on their ability to learn.

“They are desperate to network and keep up-to-date with their online peers,” said Professor Jonathan Glazzard from the university’s Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools. “This results in broken sleep and tiredness during the school day. Adolescents need approximately eight to 10 hours sleep but our research demonstrates that some get as little as two hours of sleep.

“These students attend school in a state of exhaustion. They are too tired to concentrate and it affects their learning and their behaviour.”

Most of those taking part in the study said they regularly checked their phones during family meals and while doing homework, on average every two minutes. More than four-fifths said they spent over four hours a day online, with some admitting they would feel extreme anxiety if their phones were taken away from them.

Fellow researcher Samuel Stones, who is also a senior teacher at Norton College in North Yorkshire, said it was worrying that family life was being interrupted by technology.

“Whilst technology has significant benefits, continual use of technology can impact detrimentally on the quality of people’s interactions and conversations,” he said. “We live in a society where people are constantly attached to their technology.”

Young children learn through interaction with adults, he added, with exposure to language underpinning reading and writing development.

“Children who have rich exposure to language become better readers, better writers and understand far better what they are reading,” he said.

As detailed in The Yorkshire Post, one of the region’s largest secondary schools has implemented a mobile phone ban on school grounds, arguing it is better for students’ mental health and learning. In just a single term since it was brought in, deputy headteacher at Ecclesfield School Rachel Sutcliffe said, the school has seen improvements in social interactions and communication.

And while schools play a key role in teaching young people about healthy lifestyles, Prof Glazzard said, parents are critical in setting an example and enforcing boundaries.

“Parents may resist total bans on technology because they might need to contact their child after school,” Prof Glazzard added. “We are aware of primary schools that collect phones in at the start of the day and then store them in a secure place. This works well.

“This is too difficult to do in a large secondary school but our research with teachers indicates that schools that adopt a strict policy of insisting that phones are turned off during the day and kept in students’ bags tend to have fewer problems.”