‘Banning mobile phones in Swedish schools is as obvious as banning smoking’

Mobile phone usage in schools is hurting the health and relationships of children, so it's time to ban them during class time, argue three Swedish child health experts.

'Banning mobile phones in Swedish schools is as obvious as banning smoking'
Pupils at a Swedish school handing in their mobile phones. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

When the first reports of the risks of smoking came in the 1960s and 70s they were dismissed with scorn. Having smoking areas in schools was natural. Today smoking in school is unthinkable.

Some may consider a ban on using smartphones in schools to be excessive, but the growing dependency of children on digital media points towards a different attitude within a couple of decades.

An important cause for concern is that the brain's development can be negatively affected.

100,000 synapses are formed every second in a child's brain, stimulated by all forms of sensory input. They link and build up the brain's nervous network or disappear.

The nerve networks of mice exposed to digital media have been shown to change as a result. One example of the brain being affected by overuse of screens is that nearsightedness is increasing among children. The brain adjusts the eyes to looking mostly at close range.

Even more serious is that the use of smartphones in order to seek gratification has an addictive effect. The brain's reward system is stimulated in similar way to stimulation by nicotine, alcohol and drugs.

Excessive mobile use has a proven link to psychological ill health, not least among girls. A lack of affirmation leads to stress and worsened self-esteem. Mobile developers design their games to maximize addiction and maintain a dependency.

READ ALSO: Excessive social media harms self-esteem in kids, Swedish survey shows

It is well documented that increased use of digital media reduces attentiveness and learning ability. Studies have shown that school students who take notes using screens perform worse than those who use a pen and paper.

Most concerning is that many schools have already gotten rid of paper and pens. That's despite the fact that we know that training hand-eye motor skills improves learning.

Dependence on digital media can also cause a lack of empathy. Direct eye-contact cannot be replaced by communication via social media.

Sleep deprivation and psychological problems in particular have increased among young people since the smart telephone was introduced in 2007. In the USA there is talk of a so-called “Facebook depression”.

When you go to a school during a break these days you can see that many kids engage with their smartphones instead of going out and playing in the playground.

Everything suggests that the use of digital media by children should be restricted. Screens are stealing important time for development in reality.

It has been proven that small children under the age of two cannot learn anything from a screen. The opposite: speech development can be worsened when time is taken from natural parent-child contact.

READ ALSO: Stockholm smartphone zombies are the worst in Europe

For the above reasons the mobile telephone has no place in schools. All schools should have a screen policy with simple clear rules about screen use, like schools days being mobile-free, and computers tied to lessons for school work.

Sweden does not need to be worse than France, which recently introduced a general mobile ban in schools. We believe that there is a broad consensus among both parents and responsible teachers about mobile telephones being a distraction and creating stress.

In the USA the American Academy of Pediatrics has long had strict advice on restrictions. Swedish authorities should also take in the latest research.

Children are not mature enough to take responsibility for or see the consequences of this kind of decision. It is therefore the responsibility of adults to help our children.

After some time schools will feel so much better thanks to the peace and quiet.

Screen-related stress would reduce – as would online bullying. Students would find it easier to focus and socialize – and it would stimulate being active.

This is a translation of an opinion piece written by Karolinska Institute senior pediatrics professor Hugo Lagercrantz, school physician Josef Milerad, and pediatrician Åse Victorin, originally published in Swedish by SVT Opinion.


Baby, it’s mörv outside: Sweden’s 13th month is here

The cold snap is over and now the month of mörv is back: darker, wetter, windier, and with even more work that you haven’t done, says David Crouch.

Baby, it’s mörv outside: Sweden’s 13th month is here

It is a fact little known outside Scandinavia that the year consists not of twelve months, but thirteen. The thirteenth month is sandwiched between November and December, and is known as mörv. (No capital letter for the months in Sweden.)

Mörv expresses the feeling that November is bleak, dark, and seems to go on and on forever. Suddenly there is no daylight. That hour we lost at the end of October seems to have plunged us all into permanent night. What sunlight there is is weak, grey and miserable. You go to work in the dark, you go for lunch in the twilight, and you come home in the pitch black. Your Scandi outdoor life is over – unless you’re a masochist, or perhaps a duck. Every surface is permanently damp and will remain so for the next six months.

This year’s first mörv moment for me came a couple of weeks ago when we took our daughter to a popular playground. Because my wife and child took so long to get ready we underestimated how early it gets dark these days, we arrived with daylight fading fast. The other kids had gone home already, so everything was silent but for the splashing of Poppy’s boots in the mud. The wooden playthings were covered in a treacherous layer of slime. Ugh. Mörv.

Mörv is a word originally coined by Jan Berglin, cartoonist for Svenska Dagbladet. Mörv arrives when the nice part of autumn is over but proper winter is still somewhere in the distant future. Living in a country that has four well-defined seasons is a pleasure, but during mörv the joys of the old season are gone while those of the new have not yet begun.

No more can you harvest berries and mushrooms in forests burnished red and gold – it’s all turned to muck underfoot and the trees are bare. But nor can you go sledging or skiing, enjoy the crunch of snow and the crisp, sparkling air. “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes,” goes the Swedish adage. Warning – this does not apply in mörv. You could dress from head to toe in sealskin but you still wouldn’t want to go outside.

Denmark has something similar, but there the month of November just repeats itself like groundhog day. A Danish poet summed it up very well. You haven’t read much Danish poetry? I have so you don’t have to. In a verse entitled “The year has 16 months”, Henrik Nordbrandt wrote:

“Året har 16 måneder: November
december, januar, februar, marts, april
maj, juni, juli, august, september
oktober, november, november, november, november.”

You get the picture. But in Swedish one word will do. Mörv.

This is the month of ghastly and unspecified viruses that flourish until the frost arrives to kill them off. It is the month of working like a dog to get everything done before Christmas. And to help you with this, in November there are no “röda dagar”, bank holidays or long weekends. In fact, Sweden moved the only national holiday – Alla helgons dag, or All Hallows Day – to a Saturday, just so you can work a full week either side.

Mörv is also the month when you can’t put off dull but necessary things any longer. That dental appointment you postponed because the weather was too nice. That itchy mole on your back that really should be seen by a doctor. That bit of DIY you never got around to. You are so busy with mörv that friends go unseen and your social life disintegrates.

This year, the weather tricked us by bringing southern Sweden a taste of winter a few weeks earlier than usual. For a fleeting moment the temperature dropped and we experienced that wonderful icy stillness that comes with a fresh snowfall after dark.

But even that sub-zero blast caught us unawares in the depth of our mörv-induced paralysis. Had you put winter wheels on the car? Of course not, it never freezes in November. Had you replenished your supply of grit and salt for the entrance to your home? Nej. Could you cope? Ingen chans. Knowing this, the kindly Stockholm authorities suggested we all stay at home and sit it out.

They knew it wouldn’t last. The deceitful cold snap is over and now mörv is back, darker, wetter, windier, and with even more work that you haven’t done. Between now and Lucia, mörv. Between now and saffron and candles and fairylights and glögg, only mörv. (With maybe a little Advent baking if you like that kind of thing.)

Cheer up, it won’t last forever. And it could be worse: it could be February. Now that is a truly horrible month.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.