Image for ‘Our kitchen has become the hub of an exploding movement of parents’

‘Our kitchen has become the hub of an exploding movement of parents’

Daisy Greenwell, features editor at Positive News, explains how she and a group of fellow parents ‘accidentally’ kicked off a grassroots movement to protect childhood from smartphones

Daisy Greenwell, features editor at Positive News, explains how she and a group of fellow parents ‘accidentally’ kicked off a grassroots movement to protect childhood from smartphones

Three weeks ago, I accidentally started a movement.

It all began with a conversation with my friend Clare, where we railed against the impossible situation we found ourselves in. As mothers of kids on the brink of smartphone age, either we give our children access to something that opens the door to porn, bullying, grooming and the anxiety machine that is social media, or we risk alienating them from their peers.

By the time they’re 12, 97% of British kids own a smartphone. When children started getting them, barely 15 years ago, there was no research about their impact. Now there is, and it’s overwhelming. The first generation of kids to be given a smartphone are now adults, and for every year younger they got that phone, the higher their incidence of mental illness. Regulation hasn’t caught up with technology, so right now it’s parents and kids that lose out. 

Solutions every Saturday Uplift your inbox with our weekly newsletter. Positive News editors select the week’s top stories of progress, bringing you the essential briefing about what's going right. Sign up

So, Clare and I decided to start a WhatsApp group to support each other on the lonely road of smartphone refusal we felt we had to take for our kids. We called it Parents United for a Smartphone Free Childhood, and for two days it was just the two of us, mostly silent. 

After a conversation with a parent at my kids’ school, in which they said they’d not got their eight-year-old one yet because she hadn’t asked, I posted about our group on Instagram in a fit of maternal fervour, and went to bed. When I woke up in the morning, the group had maxed out at the WhatsApp limit of 1,023 people, so we started a second one, which also maxed out. We were not alone, far from it. There were thousands of parents who felt the same – from paediatric consultants to CEOs, taxi drivers and teachers – people from all walks of life across Britain desperately wanted to talk about the problem, share their experiences, offer each other support and work to come up with a solution. 

In a surreal twist to my life in sleepy Suffolk, 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, in between the usual juggle of work and kids (with a half-term holiday thrown in for good measure). 

Daisy Greenwell and her husband Joe Ryrie, who along with Clare Fernyhough have spearheaded Parents United For a Smartphone Free Childhood

WhatsApp groups with 1,000 people and more are pretty chaotic, so we encouraged people to start their own regional groups. Before our eyes, 50 sprang up across the country, from Surrey to Scotland, from Norfolk to Wales. We suggested people start their own school-specific groups, as the real power in eliminating the peer pressure lies within your own school and class. 

Three weeks on, there is a Smartphone Free Childhood WhatsApp community in every county in the UK, and thousands of local school groups within those. Hampshire, for example, has 1,000 parents and 70 school groups, who are using the toolkits we’ve written to start a dialogue with their headteachers about the issue.

It’s a divisive issue, and one that can feel triggering to parents who have already got their kids smartphones. A common argument we hear is that they want to keep their kid safe on the journey to and from school, but a retro phone with calls and texts does exactly the same job without the additional more tangible dangers. We want to empower parents to have this discussion without awkwardness, judgement or division, and have written toolkits with experts in bringing people together over contentious issues to help everyone to do this. 

We’ve learned over time to restrict alcohol and smoking to certain age groups. Smartphones have been with us for barely 15 years, and now we know their effect, we need to act. 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.

We want to empower parents to get together and change the norm. Because childhood is too short to spend on a smartphone.

Images: Alastair Bartlett / Tilt Shift Creative

To find out more visit and check out @smartphonefreechildhood on Instagram.

Support solutions in 2024

Positive News is helping more people than ever to get a balanced and uplifting view of the world. While doom and gloom dominates other news outlets, our solutions journalism exists to support your wellbeing and empower you to make a difference towards a better future.

But our reporting has a cost and, as an independent, not-for-profit media organisation, we rely on the financial backing of our readers. If you value what we do and can afford to, please get behind our team with a regular or one-off contribution.

Give once from just £1, or join 1,400+ others who contribute an average of £3 or more per month. You’ll be directly funding the production and sharing of our stories – helping our solutions journalism to benefit many more people.

Join our community today, and together, we’ll change the news for good.

Support Positive News

Related articles