Spotlight on: Technology

1 April 2022


This article first appears in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 1 April, 2022.

I always wanted to be a teacher as I felt that there needed to be more people to listen to the voice of teenagers, to hear their thoughts, to share their passions and to spark within them a passion of learning. Having now spent 35 years teaching young women, every day is still filled with joy, happiness and pride interspersed with moments of frustration and sadness. The sentiments of these years have not changed but my experiences suggest the journey of adolescence has become far more complex. We walk beside young women who are struggling with mental health issues in increasing numbers and it is important to ask why.

The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry has recently published a report reviewing the increase in the females aged 13 – 17 years presenting to emergency departments in NSW with self-harm or suicidal ideation, particularly in socio-economically advantaged areas. Excessive use of technology is one of the suggested causes, due to the negative impact of social media on friendships and self-esteem and reduced time for physical activity.

As adults, we can all recall our own experiences as a teenager, including both moments that we would happily revisit and others we would like to forget. Could you imagine being a teenager today? Could you imagine if every one of these moments were recorded and shared on social media? Could you imagine knowing when friends met up without inviting you? Could you imagine feeling that everyone’s life is so much more perfect than your own? Could you imagine thinking that your body needed to mirror the photoshopped images you see on your screen every day? Could you imagine receiving a text 15 minutes before an event because your friends got a better offer? When you consider these questions, you start to see the complexities our young people face and why their identity and self-worth is challenged.

Yet attempts to talk to them about the use of phones and the impact of social media is generally met with a degree of flippancy. For a lot of young girls their phone is their lifeline. So, what do you do as parents and what do we do as teachers? Taking the phone away as a punishment can be highly contentious. Before we get to that stage, we need to establish norms and behaviours which we stand by and which help ensure our young people are engaged in the present moment.

At school:

  • from K – 12 phones must not be seen or heard
  • smart watches are not to be worn in the Junior School
  • from Term 2 smart watches are not to be worn in the Senior Campus
  • 1:1 use of laptops is delayed until Year 9

With the role that mobile phones play in young people’s lives, they will inevitably continue to need constant management at school, but we stand by our norms: if we see a phone, we confiscate it for the day. I will even ask a bold question: how much more effective would our policy be if parents didn’t respond to their daughter’s texts or phone calls?

Most of us have strong memories of the routines of our upbringing: sitting at the table for dinner, going to bed at a particular time, taking turns to clean up or put the rubbish out. Strong consistent routines were our norm and in terms of technology, routines still matter. Families with young children are in a great position: start now and set the norms that will create the conditions for your teenager to thrive. But even teenagers respect consistency. Families with older children can still begin a dialogue, set norms that are acceptable for all, and, whilst it is hard, stick by them. I know it may sound strange but a reward system for the whole family isn’t a bad strategy.

Your daughter may need your help to engage in the present moment at home. Can she complete her homework without the phone or enjoy dinner together without the distraction of outside voices? When she goes to bed, is the last voice she hears yours?

There are many ways that parents can more actively manage their children’s behaviour around technology. The most basic check you might start with is checking the built-in statistics on devices (Screen Time for Apple and Digital Wellbeing for Android) to see how your daughter is spending her time on line, and the advice from the eSafety Commissioner on Taming the Technology is a good starting point.

Parents and teachers are on the front line in the battle to prevent our young women being overwhelmed by these new forces in their lives. Let us both encourage our children to live in the present moment.