Thoughts from the Head - A Time for Everything

The Head's Study

Wednesday or Thursday? It depends who you ask. Thursday was definitely the girls’ most popular day. Discussions about how well sliders work with onesies and the danger of snoozing in class whilst wrapped up snuggly as Stitch were just some of the conversations I had at morning registration. For staff, pastoral ones at least, Wednesday took the prize. No mobile phones? No problems.

An over-simplification perhaps of the impact of just two of our Mental Health Awareness initiatives that have run all week across the Prep and Senior Schools but one, certainly, that bears more scrutiny. I was rather pleased to stumble on a weekend article about the impact of smart phones on the brain. Perfect fodder for this week’s thought piece I believed. Until I read more closely. Amy Orben, a research fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge in the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, did not say what I expected.

As anyone who has humoured me at various evening receptions will know, I am fascinated with the little I understand about neuroscience and, in particular, the plasticity of the brain in as far as it relates to learning. MRC’s snappy little strapline (‘using cognitive theory and innovations in neuroscience to understand and improve mental wellbeing across the lifespan) should, therefore, be right up my street. How disappointing then to read that there is very little high quality, robust evidence to support concerns about smartphones and their impact on the brain and mental health. Too much is supposition. Too much is based on anecdotal evidence from users and, let’s face it, fear of the unknown from most parents. Orben’s point is that until Google, Facebook and the larger gambling sites, share their data, it will be nigh on impossible to analyse causal links between mobile phone usage and mental health.

What is not hard to understand is the prevalence of mobile phones. Ofcom’s annual report into the media habits of children, this week shared data that is thought provoking. 50% of 10 year olds own a smartphone. Nearly 25% of 3-4 year olds have a tablet with 15% of them taking these to bed. Context is all, I know, but these figures surprise me.

So, we do not know what smartphones are doing to our brains and mental health, if anything. We do know, however, that increasingly it is the norm to own one and the age of ownership is going down rapidly. I am reminded of that beautiful section from Ecclesiastes – ‘There is a time for everything …a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance’ and conclude that this is where my ruminations have taken me. Mobile phones are here to stay but, like everything else in life, balance is all.

Which brings me to Friday and an inter House fun run round the Senior School grounds. Onesies? Mobile phone free day? I know for sure Friday will be Lolo, our faithful hound’s, favourite day of Mental Health Awareness Week.