Hands free: the school banning parents' phones from the playground

The smartphone is associated with a chain with a lock, on a wooden table
The smartphone is associated with a chain with a lock, on a wooden table Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Between 3pm and 3.15pm every week day the playground at my daughters' school fills with parents and carers ready for afternoon pick up. Some people chat to each other, catching up on school news. But there are many more who sit alone, bending over their phones.

I'm not judging – sometimes I'm one of them. In fact, when I rock up to pick up and don't spot a familiar face, I am relieved that my phone gives me a prop to mask my awkwardness.

But after reading about a British school that has banned phones at pick-up time I am now re-thinking my playground phone habits.  

St Peter's CE Primary School in Wigan has asked parents to put their phones away to encourage more parent-child interaction at pick-up time.

Explaining the new rule in a Facebook post, head teacher Wendy Cathie said that staff frequently see parents failing to acknowledge their children because they are engrossed in their phones.

"It really pulls at your heartstrings when you see parents on phone calls and pupils are running out to see them," she wrote.

"Sometimes they don't even say 'hello', they just walk off."

Cathie adds that it is lovely to walk round the school at the end of the day and see the buzz from the children as they get ready to go home.

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"Please take a moment to listen and talk to your child. The power of talk has a huge impact on our children's language development."

Backing up the new rule, Cathie later told the Manchester Evening News that improving mental health is a priority for the school.

"So much research has been done about how talking to people makes us feel so much better. It's about the children and while they're in our care and our boundaries, that's what we're going to be asking for," she explained.

There is no shortage of research to show that when it comes to connecting to our children phones are bad news. A recent study found that the number of parents who feel addicted to their phones is on the rise.

So, should a pick-up time phone ban be implemented at all primary schools? It feels like a no-brainer to me – yes it should.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons that parents use their phone in the playground. For working parents doing the juggle between work and kids, having a phone handy to take calls respond to urgent emails can make all the difference. There will always be extenuating circumstances.

But sometimes the "just checking my email" line is just an excuse to whip our phones out when we're feeling uncomfortable.

As well as better engagement with our kids, another potential side effect of a playground phone ban is more interaction between parents. It's an opportunity to widen our circles and join the dots between kids' names and parents' faces.

Call it networking! We all have one very important thing in common after all – our kids.

So going into term four, I am going to take up the mantle and impose my own phone ban. As well as being more present for my kids, it will give me a good opportunity to get out my comfort zone and talk to parents that I don't know.

And hey, if it all goes wrong and I end up with 10 minutes of quiet time – I'll take it. No doubt it will do me good.