Screening process

Schools play a crucial role when guiding children in safe technology usage,
implementing programs to enhance digital literacy, resilience and wellbeing.

 JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH 

By Fr Peter Hosking SJ, Rector, Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide 

In today’s rapidly evolving technological world, Generation Z (broadly defined as those born after 1995) and Generation Alpha (generally speaking, those born after 2012) face unique challenges due to the widespread use of technology, especially smartphones and social media. Termed digital natives, they’ve grown up in an environment where virtual interactions are routine, significantly altering their social behaviour and psychological development.  

Research indicates a rise in mental health issues, particularly anxiety and depression, linked to their extensive engagement with social media and smartphones. While both genders are affected, girls, in particular, often feel inadequate or anxious when comparing themselves to others’ posts or images. Platforms like Instagram tend to amplify unrealistic beauty standards and aspirational lifestyles, leading to a decline in self-esteem and overall mental well-being. Gaming addiction issues impact more on boys.  

The advent of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and spatial computing further complicates emotional and social development. Experts increasingly advise delaying the introduction of smartphones and access to social media for children, emphasising the need to strike a better balance between technology usage and face-to-face interactions.  

Establishing phone-free environments in schools and promoting screen-free playtime are recommended. Schools play a crucial role in educating children on safe technology usage and implementing programs to enhance digital literacy, resilience and overall wellbeing. Parents need to be aware of associated risks and establish clear guidelines regarding screen time at home. Collaborative efforts among students, parents and schools are necessary to equip children and young people with the skills to navigate today’s hi-tech world. 

Young people have the ability to reshape their connection with smartphones, social media and online gaming paving the path to lives filled with greater happiness and engagement. Prioritising face-to-face interactions is a crucial step in this journey. Quality time spent with loved ones in real-life settings deepens connections and highlights the value of genuine human relationships. In-person engagements nurture richer social bonds and cultivate a profound sense of belonging that transcends the digital landscape. Offline hobbies offer a refreshing break from the digital world. Participating in sport and interests such as gardening, cooking, musical or dramatic performance provides avenues for creativity, self-expression and personal growth.  

Encouraging children and young people to identify aspirations and behaviours beyond mobile devices instils a sense of purpose and motivation in their lives. Setting specific limits on screen time stands out as a key strategy. By allocating designated times for online activities, young people can create a healthier balance in their daily routines. Embracing mindfulness practices and meditation exercises cultivates awareness and helps reduce stress levels. Having personal goals and seeking support from trusted friends and adults helps navigate the complexities of the digital age with resilience and self-awareness. Fostering a supportive environment where individuals feel empowered to discuss their challenges and seek assistance from parents, teachers or mental health professionals facilitates positive change and nurtures a healthier connection with technology. 

Schools face a pressing concern as we address the negative impacts of technology on students’ well-being. Schools should encourage social and physical activity that does not rely on electronic devices. This involves creating phone-free zones within the campus, encouraging students to disconnect from their devices and focus on face-to-face interactions. Schools can better define and direct digital networking tools for learning and they can promote screen-free playtime as part of the curriculum. Schools do offer opportunities for students to engage in offline activities such as sports, arts and outdoor play. But they also play a crucial role in educating children on safe technology usage, integrating digital literacy programs into the curriculum to teach students how to navigate the online world responsibly, identify potential risks and safeguard their privacy and well-being.  

Parents play a vital role in promoting healthy screen habits and guiding their children through the digital landscape with positivity and support. Establishing clear boundaries around screen time is crucial, involving setting specific rules, such as limiting screen time or designating certain hours for device use, all enforced with consistency and understanding. Parents can create a safe and supportive environment where children feel comfortable discussing their online experiences and expressing any concerns. Open communication is key to cultivating a healthy relationship with technology. Parents should prioritize safeguarding their children’s privacy and be mindful of the content they share online. Respecting children’s preferences and involving them in discussions about online sharing is essential as they mature and become increasingly concerned about their online portrayal. Adjusting privacy settings, avoiding sharing location information, and using private social networks are ways parents can protect their children’s privacy while still sharing meaningful moments online. 

Shared efforts among parents, schools and communities are crucial in effectively addressing the challenges posed by excessive technology use. By working together, we can create a supportive environment that fosters healthy technology habits and supports students’ mental health and overall well-being. Through education, awareness and proactive measures, schools help equip younger generations with the necessary skills to navigate today’s tech-centric world successfully while protecting their mental and emotional health. 

Banner image by LiliGraphie, Canva.