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Two mums start viral Smartphone Free Childhood campaign: 'Parents are in an impossible situation'

Mums Daisy and Clare want a smartphone-free childhood for their kids and they just started a national movement

Friends holding mobile phones sharing social media content
Sophie Hamilton
Parenting Editor
6 March 2024
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A new grassroots movement named Smartphone Free Childhood set up by parents has gone viral, with over 17k followers on Instagram so far and 50 WhatsApp groups created around the UK, and school groups within those.

The campaign was created by friends Clare Fernyhough and Daisy Greenwell in February in a bid to support each other with their decision to hold off buying their children smartphones.

Within 24 hours, thousands of parents had joined their cause and now the friends have kickstarted a national conversation on the topic.

teenage girl Using Smart Phone© Getty
The debate around young people and smartphones is ongoing

Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered teenager Brianna Ghey, is also campaigning for an older age limit on smartphones after one of her daughter's killers, Scarlett Jenkinson, watched videos on the 'dark web' aged 15.

Smartphone Free Childhood co-founder Daisy Greenwell told HELLO! of their campaign: "We've been overwhelmed by the way it has snowballed from just the two of us to thousands and thousands of parents across the country in just three weeks. 

"Clare and I both have daughters in years four and five, and we knew that it wouldn't be long before kids in their class got a smartphone, and as soon as one does it's a slippery slope until they all do.

"We set up the group to support each other in holding off on getting a smartphone because we know that by the age of 12, 97% of British kids have one."

Daisy Greenwelll
Daisy Greenwelll

Daisy adds: "The campaign has clearly touched a nerve, it's amazing to know that we're not alone, and that there are so many others who feel the same way as we do.

"Parents right now are in an impossible situation, either we give our kids access to something that opens the door to porn, bullying, grooming and the anxiety machine that is social media, or we risk alienating them from their peers. It was the cognitive dissonance of that situation that led us to start it."

Daisy tells us that the 'SFC' movement has come to the attention of celebrity supporters too, with royal Sophie Winkleman and radio host Lliana Bird getting on board. "They both have kids and really feel it’s not the right thing to give them smartphones," explains Daisy.

Daisy and Clare's campaign is fantastic and just shows what parent power can achieve. I asked Daisy how it would work in practice and about children's access to the internet on tablets and the prevalence of online gaming.

Smartphone Free Childhood co-founder Clare Fernyhough
Smartphone Free Childhood co-founder Clare Fernyhough

She explains: "Our advice to parents, based on lots of studies and research, is to have a retro phone till 14, then no social media till 16. I definitely think this is achievable.

"If parents band together through our WhatsApp groups and find solidarity, community and support in doing so, it’s not so hard. If your child's five best mates all have the same retro phone, that's the problem solved, they won't care and will just be delighted to have Snake and text messages!

Daisy points to the effect smartphones may be having on our young people's mental health.

"When we all started using smartphones 15 years ago, we had little understanding of the impact they have on children and teenagers. Now we do," she says. "They’ve been directly linked to poor mental health and low self-esteem, especially in girls. And social media use in teens correlates directly to rates of anxiety and depression.

"The internet is a gateway to pornography, bullying, grooming and all sorts of harmful content. The evidence is overwhelming, and we need to act."

Small girl indoors on bed at night, using telephone.© Getty
Parents are worrying about their kids' online safety

Are Daisy and Clare hoping for a legal ban on smartphones for children?

Daisy says no, it's not something they are directly pushing for, but they are "100% behind Esther Ghey and her fantastic campaign to do so".

"We have formed an advocacy working group from within our community of parents which includes policy directors at tech companies, No.10 insiders, and expert human rights campaigners, and we are working with them to figure out the best way to get the government and tech companies to help us protect our kids.

"We’ve had MPs getting in touch offering their support, and it seems to be an issue that crosses all social and political divides.

"This is something that all parents are worried about, there is a clear problem here, and an equally clear solution. We all need to get together and change the norm so that 10-year-olds owning smartphones becomes unusual."

HELLO! asked Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, for her view on the Smartphone Free Childhood movement.

The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan © Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street
The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan

Michelle told us: "As a parent myself, I understand the concerns many will have around young people using smartphones.

"While every family is different, it is important we can strike a balance between the enormous benefits smartphones can bring for young people while considering some of the risks associated with them.

“Last year, we passed our groundbreaking Online Safety Act, which will make the UK the safest place for children to be online. This game-changing law will ensure that companies are held to account by legally requiring them to enforce their 13-year-old age restriction.

"But there is no time to lose, and I encourage companies to act now and keep our children safe on their platforms.”

What do you think, should the government ban smartphones for children?

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