Thousands join mums' WhatsApp group to stop children from having smartphones

The groups, span every country in the UK with individual ones set up for specific schools in some areas.

By Rachel Dixon, Multimedia Producer

Within a fortnight, two mothers have created what they believe is the largest group of parents in Britain all pushing for one cause – to stop children growing up with smartphones.

Research into British children’s phone use has shown the more they use social media, the higher their exposure to online harassment, poor sleep, low self-esteem and poor body image. The study by UCL and Southampton University professors found this was higher in girls than boys.

After discovering these statistics, friends Clare Fernyhough and Daisy Greenwell set up a WhatsApp group called Smartphone Free Childhood.

Their initial aim was to support each other, and anybody else trying to delay buying their sons or daughters phones which use the internet and have social media.

But in just 24 hours, thousands of other parents joined the group after an Instagram post by Daisy about it went viral. 

The group got so big that the pair had to advise parents to create their own regional WhatsApp groups. There is now one for every county in the UK.

Their aim is to agree not to give their children smartphones until at least 14 – currently in Britain 97% of 12-year-olds have a smartphone.

They are not the only ones pushing for change.

This summer, parents of primary school age children in a small coastal town in Ireland  agreed not to let their little ones have devices including smartphones, smart pads, and access to apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and TikTok.

“We’ve become more and more protective of children in the real world, everywhere you go is a safeguarded space, and then we’ll give kids a phone where there is no safeguarding whatsoever on the internet.

“It’s sort of a strange dichotomy that we have between this very protected real world and a completely lawless, digital world,” Ms Greenwell, who is from Suffolk, tells ITV News.

Her eldest child is eight, and as her daughter grows closer to the age where she could have a smartphone, Ms Greenwell’s concerns began to grow over what she would be able to access on the internet and her exposure to bullying online.

She wants her children to spend time playing, not looking at a screen.

Mrs Greenwell said: “I think we’ve been put in an impossible position by tech companies.

“You either allow your children access to something you know is damaging or you risk alienating them from their peers.

“The regulation hasn’t caught with the technology, and it’s parents and children that lose out.

Daisy Greenwell and husband Joe Ryrie who helped set up Smartphone Free Childhood. / Credit: Alastair Bartlett / Tilt Shift Creative

But after struggling to bring up the divisive topic at the school gates, Ms Greenwell and Ms Fernyhough decided to set up the WhatsApp group, to bring like minded parents together in a non-judgmental setting.

Within hours the group was filled to capacity, so through their original chat, a network of groups have spawned across the country. There is one in every county of the UK, some even have sub groups for specific schools.

In the Hampshire chat there are 600 people, and there are over 40 sub-groups for separate schools, Ms Greenwell says.

Smartphone Free Childhood does recognise the need for parents to get in contact with their children, and recommends buying a “brick” phone, which only has text and call features.

With their campaign building such momentum, the Ms Greenwell and Ms Fernyhough hope to bring their cause to Parliament and lobby for a ban on young children having smartphones.

Ms Greenwell said: “I feel like unbelievably excited and also overwhelmed and for all.

“I guess one thing which has been extremely inspiring is this is movement that has sprung up, and it’s the realisation that parental love is an awe inspiring force to be reckoned with.”

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