My teenager gave up their smartphone

Mental Health & Digital Wellbeing 

Written by Lucy smith, Founder & Director Inclusive change Ltd    

What would you say if your 14 year old came to you and asked you to take away their smart phone and replace it with an old fashioned “brick phone”.  

Don’t be ridiculous, that would never happen, surely not.  

But it did. When my now 17 year old came to me a few years ago and asked exactly that. They no longer felt safe with a smart phone and wanted to reduce the impact in their life.  

So what would you do?  

As a parent I supported them wholeheartedly, we switched off the smartphone – for which they had just bought a fancy new case and put it in a drawer and we got an old fashioned Nokia.  

But there was something much more emotional going on, they were struggling with their mental health and they could see this was a big part of it. We were very fortunate (or not depending on how you look at it) as we were already being supported through various therapies so we had at least some professionals to reach out to. Which we did.  

Not everyone has the support we did at that time and last year when there was increased reporting around the inquest into the sad suicide of Molly Russell and the powerful drama I am Ruth featuring Kate Winslet and her daughter Mia Threapleton I felt angry and sad and an overwhelming sense of being powerless. 

I felt like as a parent I was seeing my child and as a professional I saw young people trying to cope with an increasingly complex world of social communication whilst trying to work out who they are at an incredibly emotional and difficult time of their lives. I mean who found puberty easy? 

I don’t like feeling powerless so this feeling drove me to take action so I started talking about this topic with Barbara Spooner and Andy Jarman Directors of Digital Safety Community Interest Company

We began talking about the Online Safety Bill and what it might mean (more on that another time) we talked about the inquest of Molly Russell and the impact of online content on young minds. I was emotional when I heard in the landmark ruling at an inquest in September, a coroner ruled that Molly died in 2017 not from suicide, but from “an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content”. We are 6 years on now and we are seeing more and more the impacts of such online content and that Online Safety Bill is still not yet in place.  

This made me want to do more so I talked a bit more so I spoke on air to BBC Radio Bristol presenter John Darvall about online safety and algorithms and how my eldest child gave up their phone at 14.  

And now, the talking has moved on to the doing, working with the incredible team at Digital Safety CIC. I am proud and passionate to be able to say that I will be part of a unique conference that aims to do more than talk. Digital Wellbeing for Young People, The Castle Conference is going to be the first of many and with each step we take we will be creating a network for change.  

I will be sharing our family story and exploring some challenging topics – from the impact of social media on neuro-development in children in teens, to suicide prevention to digital minimalism and towns that agree mobile phone bans for primary children. We want to make policy change but we also want to give professionals and organisations tools and strategies to tackle some of these challenges. And most of all we want to create a network of networks that will take forward the change.  

If you want to be part of this network for change join us: at [The Castle Conference]. 

Inclusive Change is an organisation that helps organisations and individuals learn more about neurodiversity so we can create a successful future workforce