Athenry students give up their smartphones

Some of the phoneless Athenry students on their school trip to Lough Ree Bay Sports in Athlone.

Ask any teenager to hand over their smartphone for a week and they will look at you as if demanded they part with their life savings.

But that’s exactly what students in Coláiste an Eachréidh secondary school in Athenry have volunteered to do; reluctantly at first, but then they embraced it with vigour – and with most positive results.

Deputy Principal Seán Ó Mainnín’s second year Irish class were reading the book Labhairamach.com in class one day. The main theme of the story was online bullying.

And as the class discussed this issue, he got an idea. The Irish teacher asked his second-year students would they be able to go a full week without using their mobile phones.

He admitted that the 38 pupils were initially concerned about the thoughts of this.

“At first the students were worried but when one or two people agreed, the others convinced each other that it was worth a try,” he said.

The Irish teacher noticed that the students found the first two days away from their small screen difficult.

“It was definitely challenging for them initially. Luckily all the parents were on board and after a day or two the students adapted quite well,” he added.

The second-year group did not use their mobile phones from May 22 to 29 – an ideal time, as they were in the middle of preparing for their summer exams.

Mr Ó Mainnín says he believed that without the distraction of the mobile phones, the students in the All-Irish secondary school were better equipped to study for their tests.

“Without a doubt I believe it helped them to prepare. The parents were saying to us that there were less distractions for them without the phones,” he said.

The students completed the challenge as the deputy principal believes the initiative was a success for the teenagers and their families.

“The feedback we got was amazing and it was definitely a worthwhile experiment.”

Natasha Shionnaigh was one of the parents who believed that the experiment helped her daughter Amy to focus on her studies and improve her wellbeing.

“I think the ‘No Phone’ experiment was a very good idea. It highlighted to Amy the amount of free time she had. She used it by doing extra studying for her upcoming exams, going for walks and reading,” she said.

Sarah Kelly, whose daughter Katie went a week without spending time on her smartphone, said that her family will aim to use their phones less after seeing the positive effect it had on their daughter.

“The phone initiative was great for our house as Katie was definitely more engaged with her family and spent more quality time with us rather than updating snaps and talking in group chats,” she said.

After they successfully completed the week-long initiative, the students were treated to a fun filled trip to Bay Sports in Athlone, which is Ireland’s largest inflatable waterpark.

Mr Ó Mainnín said: “They were very excited with the trip and they did enjoy it. They thought it was an amazing experience.”

The deputy principal believes this initiative could be trialled across all the different year groups in the school.

“We could roll it out for all years. It was a good idea to start with one group first. We have had other groups look at the second year students and say we could do that too.”