From the Acting Head of Junior School

Karen Mahar, Acting Head of Junior School

Karen Mahar, Acting Head of Junior School

Is screen time toxic for our children?

A great school does more than just aim for its students to reach their academic potential, it commits to providing students with a holistic and inspiring education that enables each of them to reach their full potential. This is achieved by facilitating learning experiences which build character, foster wellbeing and help students develop empathy towards others.

Five ways to wellbeingIntegral to the Radford community is our Wellbeing program. This program employs a strength-based approach to cultivating mental health and improving wellbeing.  As with any learning, an essential element is assessment and the monitoring of progress and achievement to ensure we are delivering both measurable and worthwhile outcomes. 

The ‘Tell Them From Me’ survey is a complete evaluation system which measures students’ wellbeing, engagement, classroom culture and other factors known to affect learning outcomes. The College aims to capture vital information from students in Years 4-12 to meet their needs and inform the school’s planning, policy and educational practices.

"There’s definitely something going on in the mental health of teens today, and it started around 2011 and 2012," says Jean Twenge, author and University psychology professor. 

As the author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us, Twenge offers the compelling argument that the ‘something’ is the rise of screen time and social media.

One of the greatest challenges families are currently facing is managing the appropriate use of devices and social media. Some of you might have heard a podcast on ABC Conversations with Richard Fidler called ‘How iPhones rewrote the teenage brain.’ It’s well worth a listen if you haven’t heard it; click here.

Lawyer and social researcher, David Gillespie, has been delving into the complex business of the teenage brain. He has examined how the use of devices and social media is rewiring our brains, explaining why people are becoming so easily addicted, what the main consequences are, and suggesting actions to reduce these addictions.

If you are wondering whether your own children are screen addicts, Gillespie suggests you take away their screens and gauge their response. It is commonplace for parents to advise of violent responses from boys and emotional responses from girls when attempting this!

David Gillespie also advises that previous teenage compulsions such as smoking, drinking, sex and drug use are in steep decline, having halved since 2010. This success is far greater than any health organisation campaign could have ever imagined. He is quick to explain that this has come at a cost, as teenagers are now obtaining a “pleasure hit” from their use of screens and involvement in social media.

We are informed that games and social media apps being offered to our children are deliberately engineered to be addictive and the owners of the companies supplying such apps insist that their own children not be allowed to use them!

Gillespie explains that girls and boys seek different pleasures from using screens. Most girls seek approval and to be popular, while boys are largely obsessed with deriving pleasure from “avoiding danger” playing games such as “Fortnite”, involving combat scenarios and escaping simulated dangers.

The two consequences of excessive screen use are anxiety and depression. These mental health problems are becoming increasingly commonplace and far greater in their severity. Unlike drugs and cigarettes, devices are supported by schools and parents, sometimes with few restrictions on their use.  Gillespie cites the common tension of parents seeking to remove screens from their children to set limits while children insist on access to their device because they need it for their schoolwork.

So, what does Gillespie suggest we do to improve this situation?

Remove comments from social media

First and foremost, quite simply, spend more time with your children. Provide opportunities for enjoyment and connection that don’t involve devices.  Additionally, Gillespie advises us to understand that when asking a child or teen to stop using a device, they might have “impaired impulse control”.  He urges us not to argue, but instead remain calm in the moment and talk with them later. Other suggestions include keeping all devices in a central location at home where usage can be monitored, stop online shopping for apps, no usage during holidays and removing “like” and “comment” options from social media.

Our Wellbeing programs at the College include decision-making, coping skills, problem-solving skills, mindful exercises and resilience. Applying these behaviours in positive education aims to improve mental health and life satisfaction, reduce depression and anxiety and can greatly improve opportunities for academic success and creative thinking. It is important to note that the use of technology at school is intentional. The curriculum is supported by the use of learning-focused technology, responsibly preparing students for a digital future.

While international research indicates positive education does work, it’s the doing and not just the knowing that achieves these favourable outcomes.



David Gillespie
The Teen Brain
Published Pan Macmillan Aust. 2019

ABC Conversations with Richard Fidler

Dr Jean Twenge
iGen – why today’s super connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy and completely unprepared for adulthood

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