THE BLOG

Banning Phones Won't Beat the Bullies

27/03/2014 11:14 GMT | Updated 26/05/2014 10:59 BST

Last week my 15-year-old daughter told me she hated me. Absolutely screamingly, door-slammingly, never-come-in-my-room-again hated. 'You don't understand,' she said. 'This is my life and you're ruining it!' I hadn't stopped her from going to a party or from going within 10 feet of boys (tempting though that is). All I'd done was banned her from having her mobile phone in her room.

It seems there is no more heinous a parental crime than removing mobile digital connectivity. Like a drug addict desperately grasping at the poisonous nectar in a needle, confiscating a mobile phone - for her own good, of course - has induced nightly tantrums for several months now.

Which is why my heart goes out to the poor mums and dads of Kariya, a small Japanese city in the central district of Aichi, where 146,000 residents are about to find out what happens when mobile-addicted children have their 'lives' cruelly snatched away.

From next month, more than 13,000 schoolchildren aged between six and 15 won't be allowed to use their phones past 9pm and parents are being urged to monitor all cyber activity. Unfortunately the local police - whose brainchild this is, along with social workers, teachers and government officials - have refused to offer riot protection for parents, or indeed trauma counselling, though they have admitted that mums and dads won't be prosecuted if the curfew is broken.

The aim of the ban is to protect children from being bullied through the plethora of instant messaging accounts. Plus, medical experts are increasingly concerned by the amount of time children spend on hand-held devices - a few weeks ago a study in Japan showed that children aged between 10 and 17 spend an average of one and three quarter hours a day on their phones, and nearly 40 per cent spend more than two hours a day online. To which I respond: 'Is that all?'

So my message to Kariya's understandably nervous mums and dads is, of course, good luck. More importantly, give in. For I would like to point out to them that the fact that this curfew is set to begin on April Fool's Day is worryingly prescient.

Because it won't work. It can't work. Will enforced non-use of phones really stop bullying - or will kids even listen to their parents? More to the point, mobiles are not phones to our children. They are extensions of themselves, not just devices but - literally sometimes - attachments. They help to define them. And by attempting to remove forcibly such 'identities' you will not make them better people but attempt to redefine who they are against their wishes.

I used to sing with venom David Bowie's lyric from Changes: 'And these children that you spit on, as they try to change their world/Are immune to your consultations, they're quite aware what they're going through.' Now I realise he's pointing at me.

Ironically, the result will mean not an end to bullying by a probable tiny minority but the creation of a new wave of taunts. The 'squares' who bow to the whims of their uncool fascist parents (I think I might have used the same descriptive words for my own when growing up) and stop chatting (non-verbally, obviously) post-9pm will suddenly be on the side of the do-gooders.

And how do the do-gooders say phones are destroying the lives of our little ones? They delay their development. Really? Surely the myriad uses and 'intelligence' of a phone further their development. Use of phones isolates children, they say. Well mine are more connected with friends than I ever was.

They make children obese because they become so lazy. No, they get so fat because you're irresponsible parents. Phone bullying leaves them depressed and fragile. I've no doubt that this happens but phones don't bully, bullies bully.

Phones and websites might make it easier but, more importantly, they bring bullying into the house, a place that used to be a sanctuary from such vile behaviour. I've no doubt a ban will stop the timid and impressionable from being bullied in their bedrooms but it won't stop them being bullied. It may even lead to them hiding their phones away from prying parental eyes because anything that's banned must be good, right? And that'll only make the problem worse.

It would be far more constructive to help them understand that writing and saying are two different things - the former can never be erased and may even be magnified, the latter swiftly forgotten or forgiven.

So stop them smoking, having sex and playing violent video games, by all means. But leave their phones alone.