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01/05

Sixth Formers inspire others to curb phone usage

Psychology students and members of the Head Girl Team speak out about the impact of smartphone dependency and spearhead an initiative to help families reset their digital habits.

As part of their Psychology A Level, Sixth Form students Laura and Mira conducted a study focusing on self-esteem. Their research, which revealed a strong negative correlation between the time spent on Instagram and the confidence levels of teenagers, led them to investigate further. Laura, along with fellow Deputy Head Girl, Tamara, subsequently devised a school-wide survey to assess the impact of social media and smartphone usage on pupils at South Hampstead. The research revealed some interesting findings, which the girls shared at an assembly to pupils. Their results showed that 50% of pupils at South Hampstead actually want to use their phone less. The students also referenced a study by Digital Awareness UK, citing that the single biggest concern of young people in relation to digital devices is their parents’ usage of them.

Keen to do something proactive to address the pervasiveness and impacts of smartphone usage, Laura proposed writing a letter to parents. After discussing the idea with Mrs Bingham, Laura also drafted a ‘contract’, with input from the rest of Head Girl Team, to share with the whole school community. The resulting Family Phone Pledge aims to encourage us all to be more mindful of our digital habits. Divided into the ‘4S’s of screen time (Social, Study, Sleep and School), the pledge features numerous suggestions put forward by the girls, ranging from turning off phones an hour before bedtime, not using phones at mealtimes, using travel time more productively and charging phones outside the bedroom overnight. Their ideas are based on personal experience, but grounded in what they’ve learned through their academic studies.

“The contract is purely voluntary but it is something we hope might help families set some ground rules,” explained Laura, who is now reading books on her journey to school instead of scrolling on a screen. Laura is also planning a digital detox over the holidays. “Social communication is being lost and it’s so rare for families to sit down together… I really hope other schools adopt this.”

The girls’ Family Phone Pledge swiftly gathered momentum and garnered a lot of interest from the media as well as the public. Testament to the power of their idea, the pledge hit the front page of The Times and was subsequently featured on the BBC News channel, ITV London News (see below) and various radio programmes. Numerous people have since contacted the school to ask for copies of pledge to implement at home, with many more saying how impressed they are by the initiative.

One parent commented: “This is such a great idea to encourage us all to rethink our phone usage… a salient reminder to reflect on how we could perhaps make better use of our time. What’s remarkable is that this comes from teenagers, smart young women who want to make a difference… what inspiring, positive role models.”   

Laura’s original letter and the Family Phone Pledge are available to download on Mrs Bingham’s recent blog, where she outlines her own views on smartphones. At South Hampstead, pupils in Year 11 and below are not allowed to use their phones during the school day. Sixth Formers are the exception; they are allowed to use their phones as a privilege and are expected to set a good example.

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