How a Whatsapp Group Sparked “An Exploding Movement” of Parents Against Smartphones

By Claire Wilson 

March 4, 2024
Just before the pandemic, Daisy Greenwell and her family moved from inner city Hackney to the meadows of Suffolk, where she rediscovered the scree-free lifestyle of her rural childhood. (Photo credit: Daisy Greenwell

Three weeks ago, Daisy Greenwell and her friend, Clare, accidentally started a movement. They had been talking about the dilemma that parents today face; the decision to give their child a smartphone. The dangers of social media and excessive screen time are well known, especially the risks it poses to young children. But choosing not to give your child a phone means making them the odd one out, and possibly causing them to feel isolated when all of their friends have a phone. The two decided to start a Whatsapp group for parents, called Parents United for a Smartphone Free Childhood. The group went viral from an Instagram post and in just a few days, the group had maxed out the limit of users. They started a new one, which also promptly maxed out. Thousands of parents from all walks of life were in the same situation as Greenwell, unsure how to respond to the pressure to give their child a smartphone. Because a Whatsapp group with over 1,000 people was too chaotic, smaller regional groups formed across the UK in a matter of days. 

Greenwell writes, “our kitchen became the hub of an exploding movement of parents. Clare, my husband Joe and I have spent the past two weeks trying our best to harness this momentum.” Greenwell started an online platform where parents can start their own Whatsapp group with parents in their area. She explains that one of the main issues for children without smartphones is peer pressure. “If you can get a class WhatsApp group to agree together to not get our kids a phone because they don't need one, then the problem is eliminated overnight because there's none of that peer pressure," she said in an interview with the BBC. 

When smartphones first became accessible, there was no research about the impacts they have on the developing brain. Now that they have been around for more than a decade, and the first generation of children who grew up with smartphones are adults, there is some startling data. An extensive study by Sapien Labs, which surveyed almost 28,000 18-24 year olds found that, “There is now a well-documented trend of a progressive global decline in the mental wellbeing of each younger generation that began sometime between the years of 2010 and 2014.” The study found that this decline in mental wellbeing was directly correlated with the age participants got their first smartphone. 

The irony of the situation is that many parents give their child a phone to keep them safe with calling, texting, and location tracking. Greenwell advocates for brick phones, or dumb phones, which can work just as well, without the dangers of the internet. These phones look like a regular smartphone, but have limited apps and internet access or app store. This way, they can still contact their friends and parents and don’t feel like a social outcast. 

Although Parents United for a Smartphone Free Childhood has been outstandingly successful, the real issue is legislative. Because the data about smartphones’ effects on the developing brain is so new, there is a huge lack of regulation on the tech industry when it comes to children who use their products. Greenwell says, “just as we marvel at the fact cigarette companies used to market their products as healthy, people will look back on this era and ask why children weren’t protected from smartphones.” Greenwell and the parents who follow this movement have started an advocacy group, supported by campaign and policy directors, who are working to put pressure on the government to make changes to current legislation. 

The Parents United for a Smartphone Free Childhood movement is a reassuring step towards proper legislation to protect children from the internet, and a step away from the terrifying phenomenon of ipad toddlers growing into maladjusted and mentally ill teens and young adults. Greenwell is optimistic about the future of the movement. “The change is happening,” she says, “the touchpaper has been lit.”

Photo credit: Daisy Greenwell