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Pupils 'increasingly turning to brick phones' in backlash against social media

Almost two-thirds of pupils would not mind if social media had never been invented, poll shows

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Almost two-thirds of pupils would not mind if social media had never been invented, poll shows

More and more young people are “rebelling” against social media and are using non-smartphones, headteachers and an online safety organisation say. 

Nearly two-thirds of young people (63 per cent) would not mind if social media had never been invented, a new survey of secondary school pupils has found.

Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of pupils have undergone “digital detoxes” to escape social media – and they would do the same again.

The poll, of more than 4,500 pupils at independent and state schools, was commissioned by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) – a group of leading independent schools – and Digital Awareness UK.

Respondents indicated that social media had a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing:

  • 28 per cent received abusive comments online from strangers.
  • 28 per cent suffered online abuse from people they do know.
  • 56 per cent have admitted to being on the edge of addiction.
  • 52 per cent said social media makes them feel less confident. 


Speaking at the HMC annual conference in Belfast, Charlotte Robertson, co-founder of Digital Awareness UK, said apps such as Sarahah – which she says is now trending in schools – are being used "to fire abusive comments” at pupils. 

But now young people are increasingly moving away from smartphones, Ms Robertson says. 

She said: “We are now seeing, especially in Year 11 and sixth form, that they are using these ‘brick phones’ and it is being positioned as quite a trendy thing to do.

"Nokia has just brought out their [new] 3310. That is being snapped up by a lot of young people.

"You’ve got the students who are rebelling against social media altogether and they and their friends just aren’t on it. So they think they may as well have a brick phone.

"Then you have got the students who are a bit younger who will have their brick phone for weekends, for example, and their smartphone for other times."

Three-fifths of pupils said they think that digital detoxes have become more popular. And Ms Robinson believes that celebrities, like Ed Sheeran, who have taken breaks from social media, have had an influence. “It’s suddenly just a cool thing to do,” she said.

Social media 'fake'

Samantha Price, headmistress of Benenden School, a private boarding school for girls in Kent, and chair of HMC’s wellbeing working group, said her older pupils had asked if they could carry out a three-day “phone fast” earlier this year.

She said: “In the run-up, I was worried about how the girls would cope, but afterwards they were wondering what all the fuss had been about and said we should do it again but for even longer next time, which I found incredibly reassuring."

Ms Price said the school is now considering a phone-free Friday. “When young people have time away from social media they see and feel the benefits: they sleep better, concentrate and therefore learn better and feel better," she said. 

The poll also revealed that 61 per cent believe friends show a fake version of their lives on social media – despite 85 per cent saying they believe they do not do so themselves. 

More than three-fifths said they would like social media networks to include less fake news and nearly half (49 per cent) said they would like greater privacy.

Chris King, chair of HMC and headmaster of Leicester Grammar School, said: “The findings of this poll may surprise teachers and parents, but it will help them understand the pressures young people feel in the digital age.

“It is fascinating to see the first indications of a rebellion against social media and reminds us that they may need help to take breaks from its constant demands.”

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