Sarah Vine has called for a ban on the use of smartphones for the under 16s.
Citing new research performed by the London School of Economics on the “detrimental effect” mobiles have on the performance of children aged 14 to 16, she wrote:
“I want to see a ban on the use of smartphones among under-16s altogether.
“Why? Simple. Society has a duty to shield young brains from adult experiences they are either too immature to understand, or which might do long-term developmental damage.
“You would be mortified if you discovered your 12-year-old drinking alcohol, smoking, taking drugs or having sex.
Yet millions of parents every day allow their children to leave home with something just as toxic and, I would argue, just as damaging as any of these things: a smartphone.”
But it’s not the “non-stop stream of data” creating a permanent distraction, nor the seeming loss of more sociable methods of communication, that troubles Vine the most about the technology.
“What most horrifies me is the way smartphones take normal, healthy children and turn them into zombies whose principal pre-occupations are not schoolwork, riding a bike or even following the latest chart-toppers, but checking how many ‘likes’ their Instagram picture has amassed, or whether their latest video has amassed sufficient comment.
The 10 best smartphones
The 10 best smartphones
1/10 iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
Apple’s latest comes in two varieties: the iPhone 6 (4.7- inch screen and only 6.9mm thick) and the iPhone 6 Plus – a larger (5.5-inch) version, more suited for those with gorillasized hands. The experience remains largely the same: expect sleek, beautiful apps in a package that ties you into their ecosystem. From £539, store.apple.com
2/10 ZTE Blade L2
At only £90, the Blade is the perfect price-point for making sure your kids are safe when they leave the house. The battery lasts for 23 hours, so they can contact you easily, wherever they are. 5MP camera and a 5-inch screen. £89.99, store.virginmedia.com
3/10 Sony Xperia Z3
Anyone who wants a full PlayStation experience should at least consider this phone, which allows you to stream PS4 games from your console to the phone’s screen from November this year. Remarkably, it’s also waterproof up to 1.5m – so if you’re clumsy or just love the beach, this could be for you. From £469.99, shop.ee.co.uk
4/10 Nokia 930
The base model comes in at 32GB of storage. The main attraction to the Nokia Lumia range is a 4.5-inch ClearBlack screen with its brilliant contrast. The Microsoft Office app is among the best for any writer. For anyone who isn’t tied into Android or iOS this is a strong choice. Free on plans from £30.50/month, shop.vodafone.co.uk
5/10 Amazon Fire
Perfect for the Shazam generation you can point this phone – which works like any other Android phone – at pretty much anything and it will tell you what it is, how much it is, and where to buy it. Not for everyone, but if you’re a consumer it will likely change how you shop. Free, only on contract, amazon.co.uk
6/10 Moto G
Although it lacks the bells and whistles of the more expensive phones on the list, it’s still a great phone for its price, with access to emails, Facebook and more. Ideal for anyone who’s feeling the pinch this autumn. £90, shop.vodafone.co.uk
7/10 HTC One M8
The camera on the M8 has a special depth sensor for quicker focusing and clearer pictures. The phone itself is 90 per cent metal, so it doesn’t feel plasticy or liable to breaking. Also has front facing speakers and builtin amplifiers for those last barbecues of the season. £549.99, shop.emea.htc.com
8/10 LG G3
With its 5.5-inch screen the G3 is the same size as the iPhone 6 Plus but in an Android package. It has a 13MP camera with a laser focus, can charge wirelessly but isn’t waterproof or dust-resistant like some of the other phones on this list. £479.95, carphonewarehouse.com
9/10 Samsung Galaxy Alpha
The latest Samsung looks set to replace my personal phone. It’s got a 4.7-imch Super AMOLED screen but the main attraction is Samsung’s “Ultra Power-Saving Mode”, which turns the smart-beast’s screen into greyscale and limits the apps you can use, allowing it to run for days. From £449.99, shop.ee.co.uk
10/10 Nexus 5
Rumours of a new Google phone are rampant at the moment but their last offering, the Nexus 5, still packs a punch. The 5-inch screen is made from Gorilla Glass 3, so should resist a bunch of scratches. £299, play.google.com
“At a time when young minds should be questioning and expanding, their horizons shrink to one tiny, glowing screen. Forget great art, travel, conversation: all they want to know is what’s the wifi code and where can I get the best signal?”
“If these devices were age-restricted, the benefits to the next generation would not just be academic, but physical and psychological, too,” she concludes.
“I know age restriction would never fully resolve the issue - just as the ban on selling cigarettes to under-18s doesn’t stop them all from smoking. But, Lord knows, we have to start somewhere.”
Her comments follow that of psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist's in April. The former Oxford teacher, who retrained as a doctor, claimed that smartphones were making children “borderline autistic”.