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Phones Down, Eyes Up

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

During our 2018 Spring Course, we were running a series of staff versus student challenges when the controversial idea of a ‘no phone day’ was suggested. Controversial because we knew how attached kids are to their phones these days and following many a raised eyebrow, puff of the cheeks and the muttering of, ‘we can’t do that!’ It was decided that we would have a ‘no phone day’ that very week.

It was announced to mixed responses with the majority of kids aghast at the suggestion, with a minority up for the challenge having, ‘never gone a day in their life,’ without their phone.

Since Buckswood Overseas Summer School’s (BOSS) inaugural course in 2012, we have always attempted to fill our students days with as many engaging activities as possible so that they simply don’t have time to even think about their phones and despite establishing rules regarding mobile phones, they have become so integral in young people’s lives that not only do they now all have them, a lot of students are rarely off them despite our best efforts.

The ‘no phone day’ challenge kicked off with all students surrendering their mobile phones into a box that was then locked away for the day. That box probably became the most valuable box in the school for that one day. A box full of the best, top of the range mobiles phones including iPhone Xs and Samsung Galaxy S9s amongst others that must’ve been worth tens of thousands of pounds!

Immediately, as I walked into the dining room for breakfast, I sensed that something was different. Students were talking. They were helping each other, serving breakfast to each other. It was different at break time too as students laughed and joked, being creative and thoughtful in their actions. I sat for half an hour at lunch time and had a fantastic conversation with a group of students who would otherwise be more interested in how many followers or likes they had on their Instagram accounts. It was nice and it was an easy decision to introduce ‘no phone days’ to all of our courses. Permanently.

The BOSS campus is in the heart of the East Sussex countryside. It is rural, it is an area great for exploring, and spending as much time as possible outdoors is something that we encourage. We have always therefore attempted to steer clear of mobile phones being used for the purpose of social media and playing games in favour of face-to-face socialising and face-to-face playing. According to Florence Williams in her book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, the benefits of this include:

  • Improving short term memory

  • Reducing stress

  • Eliminating fatigue

  • Helping to fight depression and anxiety

  • Protecting vision

  • Lowering blood pressure

  • Improving ability to focus

  • Helping to be more creative

  • Boosting the immune system

I thought it was interesting to see that the majority of advantages found in being outdoors are directly contradicted by the use of mobile phones, for example:

  • Improving short term memory – with so much information at your fingertips, the use of mobile phones actually reduces your short term memory.

  • Reducing stress – social media can increase stress in kids due to online bullying.

  • Eliminating fatigue – kids spend a lot of time on their phones in bed and the light from the screen can affect the ability to sleep.

  • Helping to fight depression and anxiety – again, online bullying and the pressure to live an ‘Instagram’ life give kids a false impression as to the realities of real life.

  • Protecting vision – vision is worsened due to the close proximity of device to eye.

  • Improving ability to focus – again, with so much information at your fingertips it is difficult to focus on just one thing.

Abby Jones is a 12 year old philanthropist who gave a fantastic TEDx Talk called From 'I hate you' to 'Thank you' following her parents taking away her mobile phone for one month. She speaks of real life disappearing to be ‘replaced by the fake life of Instagram.’ However, following a month without her phone, friends and family told her that they liked being around her more because of her communication, ability to connect, emotions and overall behaviour. ‘It was hard to admit but maybe a life without a phone was a better life for me.’

In his book, Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids, Tom Kersting writes that, when we spend most of our time communicating through text messaging rather than face-to-face, the brain will weed out the neural pathways that are necessary for becoming good face-to-face communicators.

BOSS is proud to run social, interactive and communicative courses and we are already seeing year-after-year a difference in some of our students due to technology. We have had returning students who one year had no phone, and were involved in everything with many friends, and a year later are always alone with their heads in their phone (until we take it away). Where will we be in 10, 20, 30 years’ time if we can already see differences in students after just one year?

Did you know that not including phones or tablets, the average 13 year old spends 7 hours and 38 minutes per day, 7 days a week, glued to a screen? You may have known that back in 2005 when a study was completed by the Kaiser Family Foundation, however in 2015 Common Sense Media conducted another study which found that including phones and tablets, the average teenager spends 9 hours per day, 7 days a week on technology and this does not include school-related technology. To make things a little more unbelievable Common Sense Media also found that the “heavy user” teenager spends 13 hours and 20 minutes per day, 7 days a week, on their screens and again, this does not include school-related technology.

During the summer of 2018, we had ‘no phone days’ on Monday, Thursday and Friday. Students need their phones on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday as we have excursions and they may need them in case of an emergency. Thanks to ‘no phone days’ we have seen students settle a lot more quickly as rather than calling home, they speak to us; rather than playing online games, they play with each other; rather than chatting online, they chat in real life. They are sociable, they are creative, they are thoughtful and they are present in the moment. They are a lot more engaged in every aspect of school life, in classes, activities and meetings. Every day without a phone, they are improving their English language skills, their communication skills and their confidence. They are also improving their policing skills as in order to lead by example, staff too are “not allowed” to be seen with a phone on no phone days and the students love nothing more than spotting a member of staff with a phone.

At BOSS, staff fulfil the role of mentors, leaders, teachers, big brothers, big sisters, team captains, equals and friends amongst other many other things and the last thing we want to do is upset our students. A very easy way to do this is to take away their mobile phone. If we do this, the last thing students see us as is any of the above and the first thing they see us as is an enemy, someone who has, and I quote a student from this summer, ‘violated their human rights.’ However, in cases outside of ‘no phone days,’ we take phones away because we can see that a student is removing themselves from everyday school life, they are not participating, they are oblivious as to what is going on around them and they are ignoring a fellow human being.

Students are aware of when they can and can’t use their mobile phones and the thing is, once we have explained to them why we have taken it, they soon get over it and within the hour we see a different student. One who is sociable, one who is happy, interactive, thoughtful creative funny and outgoing. One who is full immersed in their BOSS experience.

(Please note, students are allowed to have their phones for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening on no phone days which are on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.)


The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams -

From 'I hate you' to 'Thank you', Abby Jones, TEDxCherryCreekWomen -

Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids by Tom Kersting -


This blog post was written by Neil McLoughin, Director of Buckswood Overseas Summer School (BOSS). BOSS is a British Council accredited language school for students aged 8 to 17 from across the globe. To find out more, please visit or contact us here.

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