THE principal of a West Cork primary school has written a strongly-worded letter to parents, telling them they need to step up when it comes to their children’s smartphone use.
In the letter sent to parents of Kilmeen NS in Rossmore near Clonakilty, principal Kenneth McCarthy said he and his staff were literally at their wits’ end having to deal with the fall-out from issues that have happened outside of school hours, as a result of phone use.
Students in fifth and sixth classes, he said, are coming to class exhausted from sending texts as late as 3am.
Others are being excluded from groups like WhatsApp, finding themselves subject to bullying behaviour and other conflicts, through social media. There’s also the issue of kids feeling left out if they don’t have a phone.
‘We then have to pick up the pieces,’ he said. ‘It’s no longer about what happened in the yard – it’s about what happened at 10pm the previous night.’
Principal McCarthy told The Southern Star: ‘Teachers are already busy enough and stretched enough. We are expected to fix everything in society, yet we don’t have the tools or the resources. But we recognise from talking to parents that there’s a need for leadership on this.’
The letter points out some of the frightening issues that have arisen in this moderate-sized rural school, including pupils arriving to school anxious, ‘having been exposed to inappropriate material’, while others have been communicating with strangers, or have been cyber-bullied.
He said that teachers’ primary aim was to teach, but that issues caused by phones were seeping more and more into school time.
He also reminded them that children should be 16 or over in order to legally sign up to many of the apps they are using. ‘If you give your child a smart device, you will need to deal with the consequences,’ he told them.
‘Kids are only kids for a very short time. Can we not preserve that just a bit longer? They don’t need smartphones. We only see the negative side of Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat,’ he added.
Mr McCarthy and his staff of seven decided to send the letter to the parents of their 138 pupils last week, asking if they were in support of the school’s proposal that children should be smartphone-free in their primary school years.
They’ve so far had a resounding 96% in favour of their suggestion.
The principal admitted he was a little nervous when he first sent out the letters. ‘It’s new territory for us. But it comes down to the fact that we are here for the good of the children.’
He stressed that it wasn’t about teachers being a police service for what happens at at home, but that their stance would give parents strength.
‘If this message gets out there, then it becomes the norm – especially for younger students as they move up,’ he said.
Their position may now prompt a ripple effect as parents from other West Cork schools have been requesting a copy of the letter to take to their own principals.