Negative behaviour from online games including Fortnite spurred a Laois school to go 'tech free' in pupils' homes one day a week.
A Laois primary school is fighting back against addictive online games by holding Tech Free Thursdays that carry on into family homes that evening.
St Patrick's Boys NS in Portarlington launched their first Tech Free Thursday on March 7, encouraging some 400 pupils to put away their phones and screens for the entire day and instead play lego, boardgames and play outside.
It was a huge success with children reporting how they enjoyed playing outside with neighbouring kids, and having conversations with their families.
The principal Pat Galvin explained why they began the initiative.
"Over the last few years I noticed that a lot of issues coming to my attention in relation to problems at home and at school had a common denominator, excessive use of technology and an addiction to games such as Fortnite," he said.
"For many boys and their families it was having an extremely negative impact on their home and school lives. Parents made it known to me that their biggest concerns were the increased aggression, lack of sleep and huge reductions in family time not to mention the mental and physical issues associated with excessive screentime," he said.
The positive effect of the day has been significant he said.
"We are delighted to report that we noticed a significant difference in the boys last Friday. They were well rested, alert, relaxed and in great form. Their overall energy was better, and they enjoyed sharing their positive experiences of time spent playing outside with friends and neighbours, spending time in conversation with their parents and siblings and even time spent helping with the dishes and other small household duties," Mr Galvin said.
"A number of parents contacted me to say they did not realise the disconnect that had occurred with themselves and their children, and really enjoyed as one parent said 'getting to know my son again'," he said.
"Parents also felt that the fact that it is coming from the school makes it much easier to implement," he said.
They intend to continue their Tech Free Thursday up to a big event for the whole school on April 18, the last Thursday before the Easter holidays.
It is inspiring other schools to follow their lead.
"I've had loads of calls from other schools who are considering doing the same as us," the principal said.
He thanked the parents for their encouragement and feedback.
"t’s wonderful that this has been so warmly embraced by all the families in the school. We also appreciate the honest feedback of many parents that found this new practice challenging and even difficult. As parents ourselves we fully acknowledge the genuine trials and issues faced when trying to manage and balance the time spent on technology, social media and gaming especially with the older boys and teenagers. We are committed to building on this new initiative and we are here to help and support you and your family," Mr Galvin said.
The school is sending out the message that the internet can be good and bad for children, in a post on its website.
"It is important to remember that the society that our children are growing up in now is so different than the one we grew up in, it’s a steep learning curve for everyone and its mind-blowing how fast technology and social media are evolving and affecting every aspect of our lives.
"The internet is a wonderful invention for all, it allows us real-time global communication with our loved ones, provides a platform to access information and research and expands our knowledge of the wider world and society and many of the games are educational and help improve learning outcomes for children. It is our hope that with continued cooperation and mutual support between the school and parents we will be able keep our kids safe and happy while using the internet and technology".