Sinead Moriarty: 'Packing teens off to no-phone survival camp'
When I told my 14-year-old that he was going to Irish college in the west of Ireland and would not be allowed bring his phone, there was outrage. How was he supposed to communicate? he demanded to know.
"You write letters," I said.
"Letters? Like in the olden days?"
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He was incredulous. "How am I supposed to 'survive' without a phone for three weeks?"
"I'm not depriving you of food or water. Not having a phone for three weeks is not a violation of basic human rights," I explained.
"It is to me," he grumbled.
"You might actually have a good time," I suggested.
"I very much doubt it."
So it was with great trepidation that I waved him off three weeks ago on a coach to the west. The friends he was going with felt the same. They were not an enthusiastic bunch. The phone ban was a bitter pill to swallow.
I crossed my fingers and waited for the first 'litir'. It came about six days in. He was having a good time, he was enjoying it, it was "actually quite fun".
I almost danced with relief. He was having fun without his phone. Miracles do happen.
Ten days later, when I went to visit him, he was full of chat and cheer and said he was having a brilliant time.
And there it was. Proof that the bloody phone is a deterrent to good, old-fashioned fun.
Instead of all the kids staring into their screens and contacting each other via Snapchat, they were looking into each other's faces and talking.
The other parents I met on "visit day" said their sons and daughters had all said the same. It was "brilliant fun".
Their children were all full of conversation and stories, too. Gone were the monosyllabic answers from the 'typical teens'. These kids were truly happy. Phoneless and happy.
"So you now know you can have fun without your phone," I said to him.
"I suppose so," he admitted.
I drove away from the college feeling ecstatic. This was it. He now knew that life without a phone was better. The addiction was broken. Three weeks without the phone, and he knew how much more fun life was.
He'd come home and barely give it a second glance. He'd be out all the time with his new Irish college friends doing outdoorsy and back-to-basics things.
As I stood waiting for the bus to bring him home yesterday, I got chatting to a mother who told me it was her son's second year at this particular Irish college.
"Isn't it great about the no-phones," I said. "How long does the lack of interest in them last? 'Til Christmas, or maybe a bit less?"
She smiled kindly. "About two hours."
"So you're telling me they will revert to type within one afternoon?" I said, heart sinking.
"Pretty much, yes."
My face fell.
"But," she said, "at least they know that there is life beyond phones."
I felt deflated. I hoped the phone addiction would be broken.
I wasn't totally delusional, I knew he'd still want his phone, but not as much. Not all the time. Right?
He bounded off the bus and chatted the whole way home. But the minute we walked in the front door, he asked, "Can I have my phone now?"
"OK, but remember what a good time you had without it?" I urged.
He wandered off, no longer listening to me, head down, staring at his screen.
I'm clinging to the hope that at least, deep down, he knows that he can survive without it… for three weeks.