Should young kids have smartphones? These parents in Europe linked arms and said no

A 11-year-old boy plays with his father's phone outside school in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, June 17, 2024. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Should young kids have smartphones? These parents in Europe linked arms and said no

  • The most engaged parents are pushing for fellow parents to agree not to get their kids smartphones until they are 16. After organizing online, they facilitate real-world talks among concerned parents to further their crusade

BARCELONA, Spain: Try saying “no” when a child asks for a smartphone. What comes after, parents everywhere can attest, begins with some variation of: “Everyone has one. Why can’t I?”
But what if no preteen in sight has one — and what if having a smartphone was weird? That’s the endgame of an increasing number of parents across Europe who are concerned by evidence that smartphone use among young kids jeopardizes their safety and mental health — and share the conviction that there’s strength in numbers.
From Spain to Britain and Ireland, parents are flooding WhatsApp and Telegram groups with plans not just to keep smartphones out of schools, but to link arms and refuse to buy young kids the devices before — or even into — their teenage years.
After being inspired by a conversation in a Barcelona park with other moms, Elisabet García Permanyer started a chat group last fall to share information on the perils of Internet access for children with families at her kids’ school.
The group, called “Adolescence Free of Mobile Phones,” quickly expanded and now includes over 10,000 members. The most engaged parents are pushing for fellow parents to agree not to get their kids smartphones until they are 16. After organizing online, they facilitate real-world talks among concerned parents to further their crusade.
“When I started this, I just hoped I would find four other families who thought like me, but it took off and kept growing, growing and growing,” García Permanyer says. “My goal was to try to join forces with other parents so we could push back the point when smartphones arrive. I said, ‘I am going to try so that my kids are not the only ones who don’t have one.’“
It isn’t just parents. Police and public health experts were sounding the alarm about a spike of violent and pornographic videos watched by children via handheld devices. Spain’s government took note of the momentum and banned smartphones entirely from elementary schools in January. Now they can only be turned on in high school, which starts at age 12, if a teacher deems it necessary for an educational activity.
The movement in Britain gained steam this year after the mother of 16-year-old Brianna Ghey, who was killed by two teenagers last year, began demanding that kids under 16 be blocked from accessing social media on smartphones.
“It feels like we all know (buying smartphones) is a bad decision for our kids, but that the social norm has not yet caught up,” Daisy Greenwell, a Suffolk, England-area mother of three kids under age 10, posted to her Instagram earlier this year. “What if we could switch the social norm so that in our school, our town, our country, it was an odd choice to make to give your child a smartphone at 11? What if we could hold off until they’re 14, or 16?”
She and a friend, Clare Reynolds, set up a WhatsApp group called Parents United for a Smartphone-Free Childhood, with three people on it. Within four days, 2,000 people had joined the group, requiring Greenwell and Reynolds to split off dozens of groups by locality. Now there’s a chat group for every British county.
Parents rallying to ban smartphones from young children have a long way to go to change what’s considered “normal.” By the time they’re 12, most children have smartphones, statistics from all three countries show. In Spain, a quarter of children have a cellphone by age 10, and almost half by 11. At 12, this share rises to 75 percent. British media regulator Ofcom said 55 percent of kids in the UK owned a smartphone between ages 8 and 11, with the figure rising to 97 percent at age 12.
Parents and schools that have succeeded in flipping the paradigm in their communities told The Associated Press the change became possible the moment they understood that they were not alone.
In Greystones, Ireland, that moment came after all eight primary school principals in town signed and posted a letter last year that discouraged parents from buying their students smartphones. Then the parents themselves voluntarily signed written pledges, promising to refrain from letting their young kids have the devices.
“The discussion went away almost overnight,” says Christina Capatina, 38, a Greystones parent of two preteen daughters who signed the pledge and says there were almost no smartphones in schools this academic year.
Something like a consensus has built for years among institutions, governments, parents and others that smartphone use by children is linked to bullying, suicidal ideation, anxiety and loss of concentration necessary for learning. China moved last year to limit children’s use of smartphones, while France has in place a ban on smartphones in schools for kids aged six to 15.
The push to control smartphones in Spain comes amid a surge in cases of children viewing online pornography, sharing videos of sexual violence, or creating “deep fake” pornographic images of female classmates using generative artificial intelligence tools. Spain’s government says that 25 percent of kids 12 and under and 50 percent of kids 15 and under have been exposed to online pornography.
The dangers have produced school bans on smartphones and online safety laws. But those don’t address what kids do in off hours.
“What I try to emphasize to other principals is the importance of joining up with the school next door to you,” says Rachel Harper, principal of St. Patrick’s National School, one of the eight in Greystones to encourage parents to refrain from smartphones for their kids. “There’s a bit more strength that way, in that all the parents in the area are talking about it.”
The home isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic offered a firsthand glimpse of their kids staring at screens and getting clever about hiding what they were seeing there — and what was finding them.
But if the kids can’t have smartphones, are the parents cutting back their own online time? That’s tough, multiple parents say, because they’re managing families and work online.
Laura Borne, a Greystones mom of kids ages 5 and 6 who have never known smartphones, says she is aware of the need to model online behavior — and that she should probably cut back.
“I’m trying my best,” she says. But just as with the children she parents, the pressures are there. And they’re not going away.
 

 


A 12-year-old girl is accused of smothering her 8-year-old cousin over an iPhone

iPhones are displayed during an event in Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (AP)
Updated 21 July 2024
Follow

A 12-year-old girl is accused of smothering her 8-year-old cousin over an iPhone

  • The recording shows the older child using bedding to suffocate her cousin as the younger girl slept in the top bunk, Gibson District Attorney Frederick Agee’s statement said

HUMBOLDT, Tennessee: A 12-year-old girl in Tennessee has been charged with murder, accused of smothering her 8-year-old cousin as the younger girl slept. A relative said they had been arguing over an iPhone.
A security camera recorded the killing, inside the bedroom they shared on July 15 in Humboldt, Tennessee, the county prosecutor said.
The recording shows the older child using bedding to suffocate her cousin as the younger girl slept in the top bunk, Gibson District Attorney Frederick Agee’s statement said. After the child died, “the juvenile cleaned up the victim and repositioned her body,” Agee said.
A relative told WREG-TV in Memphis that the girls had been arguing over an iPhone after coming from out of town to stay with their grandmother.
The girl was charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence after authorities obtained the video on Wednesday.
“I consider this to be one of the most disturbing violent acts committed by either an adult or juvenile that my office has prosecuted,” Agee wrote in the statement.
He said he would petition a judge to prosecute the girl, who turns 13 later this month, in adult court, which would allow for “a lengthier sentence, whether that will be through incarceration or supervision with court-ordered conditions.”

 


Watermelon soap from cosmetics firm Lush will support Palestinian children’s mental health

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Watermelon soap from cosmetics firm Lush will support Palestinian children’s mental health

  • Soap made from natural ingredients and safe synthetics such as rapeseed, coconut, watermelon, bergamot, rose

LONDON: British cosmetics retailer Lush has launched a watermelon soap, the proceeds of which will fund essential mental health support and trauma counseling for children in Gaza and the West Bank.

Watermelons have emerged as a symbol of solidarity with Palestine, as they contain the colors of the Palestinian flag.

The Lush soap is made from natural ingredients and safe synthetics such as rapeseed, coconut, watermelon, bergamot and rose.

In 2011, the British Medical Journal published a review study that found high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among Palestinian children. New research by Save the Children has reported that feelings of depression, hyperactivity, a preference for being alone, and aggression are now reported by 95 percent of children in Gaza.

Lush’s support is nothing new. The company sources extra virgin olive oil from Palestine’s Marda Permaculture Farm, which is dedicated to social and environmental regeneration. The farm encourages sustainable agricultural practices and offers economic opportunities to local communities.
 


Say cheese: Japanese scientists make robot face ‘smile’ with living skin

Updated 18 July 2024
Follow

Say cheese: Japanese scientists make robot face ‘smile’ with living skin

TOKYO: Japanese scientists have devised a way to attach living skin tissue to robotic faces and make them “smile,” in a breakthrough that holds out promise of applications in cosmetics and medicine.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo grew human skin cells in the shape of a face and pulled it into a wide grin, using embedded ligament-like attachments.
The result, though eerie, is an important step toward building more life-like robots, said lead researcher Shoji Takeuchi.
“By attaching these actuators and anchors, it became possible to manipulate living skin for the first time,” he added.

Minghao Nie, a researcher of University of Tokyo shows a face mold covered in human skin tissue at his lab in Tokyo on July 12, 2024. (REUTERS)

The smiling robot, featured in a study published online last month by Cell Reports Physical Science, is the fruit of a decade of research by Takeuchi and his lab on how best to combine biological and artificial machines.
Living tissue has numerous advantages over metals and plastics, Takeuchi said, ranging from the energy efficiency of brains and muscles to skin’s ability to repair itself.
Looking ahead, the researchers aim to add more elements to the lab-grown skin, including a circulatory system and nerves. That could lead to safer testing platforms for cosmetics and drugs absorbed through the skin.
It could also produce more realistic and functional coverings for robots. Still, there remains the challenge of ridding people of the strange or unnerving feelings evoked by machines that fall just short of being entirely convincing.
“There’s still a bit of that creepiness to it,” Takeuchi acknowledged about the robot. “I think that making robots out of the same materials as humans and having them show the same expressions might be one key to overcoming the uncanny valley.”


Paris mayor dips into the Seine River to showcase its improved cleanliness before Olympic events

Updated 17 July 2024
Follow

Paris mayor dips into the Seine River to showcase its improved cleanliness before Olympic events

  • Dip at Seine part of a broader effort to showcase the river’s improved cleanliness ahead of the Summer Games
  • Daily water quality tests in early June indicated unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria, followed by recent improvements

PARIS: After months of anticipation, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo took a dip in the Seine River on Wednesday, fulfilling a promise she made months ago to show the river is clean enough to host open-swimming competitions during the 2024 Olympics — and the opening ceremony on the river nine days away.
Clad in a wetsuit, Hidalgo plunged into the river near the imposing-looking City Hall, her office, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet and the top government official for the Paris region, Marc Guillaume, joined her.
“The water is very, very good. A little cool, but not so bad,’’ Hidalgo said upon emerging.
It’s part of a broader effort to showcase the river’s improved cleanliness ahead of the Summer Games which will kick off July 26 with a lavish open-air ceremony that includes an athletes’ parade on boats on the Seine. Daily water quality tests in early June indicated unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria, followed by recent improvements.
Since 2015, organizers have invested heavily — $1.5 billion — to prepare the Seine for the Olympics and to ensure Parisians have a cleaner river in the years after the Games. The plan included constructing a giant underground water storage basin in central Paris, renovating sewer infrastructure, and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.
Despite being a recurring promise among politicians, swimming in the Seine has been banned for over a century. Jacques Chirac, the former French president, made a similar pledge in 1988 when he was Paris mayor, but it was never realized.
Hidalgo will follow in the footsteps of French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castara, who swam in the Seine on Saturday wearing a full-body suit.
Originally planned for June, Hidalgo’s swim was postponed due to snap parliamentary elections in France. On the initial date, the hashtag ”jechiedanslaSeine” (“I’m pooping in the Seine”) trended on social media as some threatened to protest the Olympics by defecating upstream.
Concerns over the Seine’s flow and pollution levels have persisted, prompting daily water quality tests by the monitoring group Eau de Paris. Results in early June indicated unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria, followed by recent improvements.
The Seine will host several open water swimming events during the Games, including marathon swimming at the Olympic Games and the swimming legs of the Olympic and Paralympic triathlons.


Trump website features image of his bloody face to raise funds

Updated 15 July 2024
Follow

Trump website features image of his bloody face to raise funds

WASHINGTON: Former US President Donald Trump’s website featured an image of him with a bloodied face on Monday morning to urge supporters to donate to his campaign and come together in the spirit of unity and peace following this weekend’s shooting.
The website redirected prospective donors to a page on fundraising platform WinRed that shows a black and white image taken by an Associated Press photographer that Trump has described as “iconic.”
It shows the Republican candidate’s face streaked with blood and his fist raised in defiance after a bullet pierced his upper right ear at a rally in Pennsylvania. The image was captioned with the words “FEAR NOT” written in upper case letters.
A message below the image read: “Unity. Peace. Make America Great Again.” The page also carried Trump’s signature and gave visitors to the website options to contribute at different levels.
In an interview published late on Sunday by the New York Post, Trump spoke about the images taken of him immediately after he was shot, including the photo featured on his campaign website.
“A lot of people say it’s the most iconic photo they’ve ever seen,” Trump was quoted as saying in the New York Post. “They’re right and I didn’t die. Usually you have to die to have an iconic picture.”
Trump, who is running against Democratic US President Joe Biden in November’s election, was shot by a 20-year-old man with a semiautomatic rifle on Saturday at the rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, authorities said.
One Trump supporter who attended the rally was killed, two others were wounded and the suspect was shot dead by security agents. The FBI said it was investigating the shooting as an assassination attempt.
Leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties, including Trump and Biden, appealed to the bitterly divided country to unite and maintain calm after the shooting.
A GoFundMe campaign backed by Trump for the victims of the shooting at the former president’s rally had raised over $3.5 million by the end of Sunday.