Three kids look at a phone screen

Usually when teachers send blanket mails to parents, it’s to tell them to buy a book, attend a meeting or check for nits. I’m used to that kind of missive. But a couple of weeks back, I got one that cuts to the heart of a matter fairly close to my own.

It bore the news that my kid’s class of 12- and 13-year olds demonstrates an unwavering and apparently unprecedented addiction to smartphones. And flagged up what it described as a miserable grade average. The connection between the two was every bit implicit, and the proposed solution to teach the kids Skat — one of Germany’s favourite national card games.

Not so much as a means of improving concentration, but to show them there’s fun to be had outside the confines of the digital world.

Oh the temptation…

The collective parental response was part-offended, part-mocking, but on the whole there was a sense of about-time-too. In truth, I couldn’t quite see how a complex three-person card game dreamed up in the early 1800s would offer lasting alternative appeal, but I was willing to accept it might have something to do with the fact that I’m not much of a player.

Yet when the follow-up, how-we-got-on-with-project-Skat mail arrived last week, it was to say that most kids had already lost interest.

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Shame. And I mean that. Because in a country where 96 percent of seventh graders and even 60 percent of fourth graders have a smartphone at their disposal, and where they’re not always, if ever, using them to expand their young minds, it was worth a try.

To ban or not to ban

As are the other efforts my daughter’s teachers have made to raise awareness of the addictive nature of smartphones. They’ve included the kids assessing their own levels of dependence, being told to submit their devices for a whole 10-minute recess, and being asked if they’d like a general French-style ban during school hours.

A boy holds a poster with the social media symbols crossed out

Not all children are into smartphones, and many don’t like it when their parents play with them

Needless to say, most were opposed. And they can breathe easy, because that’s not about to happen. Berlin’s education senator has stated that any such measures should be decided on a case-by-case basis, and for now at least, my daughter’s school has ruled it out.

She’d have been happy with a ban though, she really would. And I find her clarity on the issue refreshing. Educational even. Not that I can claim any credit for contributing her conclusions. Except, perhaps I can. In the worst of ways.

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Because the reality is that I’m never far away from my own phone. I regularly catch myself pulling it out of my pocket when I’m waiting for the traffic lights to turn green or for the bell to ring at school, or looking at it when I’m cooking, climbing the stairs, walking to the train, sitting on the train, reading, writing etc. etc.

I’ve become more aware of it since the Skat experiment, and I’m now making a conscious effort to leave my phone alone. Amazingly, the world has never changed much between my glances. So even if a class of 12- and 13-year olds didn’t get much out of an ancient card game, I’d like to think I did. Without having to play a single round.

In Berlin and Beyond, British-born Tamsin Walker takes a closer look at some of the quirks and perks of life in Germany, which has been her home for almost 20 years. She tweets as @TamsinkateW

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