Welcome to the parent revolution

I met a unicorn last week. My unicorn was the parent of a 15-year-old girl whose daughter had never owned a mobile phone. The unicorn and her daughter were both happy, well-adjusted, had friends, attended social events, and are thriving in our modern world. This caused me to reflect on some things that I already knew. You do not need a mobile phone to be happy. You do not need social media to be socially connected. 

As a school teacher with decades of experience, I feel qualified to share that my field research supports the findings that social media has negative consequences on students’ mental health. That’s not for every young person but significantly more than prior to widespread access and use of social media. The digital platforms are largely performative and voyeuristic and are a beating drum of negativity and polarisation. Adolescents, in particular, are drawn to outrageous, scandalous and negative stories. The more they click on these stories, the more these stories will appear, and the cycle continues. We (the online world and digital media) have created a generation of imperfect perfectionists whose values and beliefs are confused and unsettled, and their view of the world is quite negative and disconnected.

A key survival strategy for our forebears was curiosity. However, in this time of online socialisation, curiosity in our children is taking them to places that are unimaginable on the internet. In addition to this, they are performing acts, posting or interacting with unknown individuals who do not have their best interests at heart. And lastly, all this risk-taking behaviour is captured somewhere on the internet and will follow our children around in perpetuity.

Back to my field research. I wish I had a dollar for every parent who has said to me: “My child tells me everything’ or “I can see everything they do on the internet or access all their online activity”. No adult in the world has the capacity nor the time to see and read and then process the volume of ‘activity’ most teens are capable of online – in my opinion, complete surveillance is not possible. The internet is filled with the side of humanity most of us truly hoped didn’t exist, and we truly should not be giving our children unlimited access to it.

The revolution is coming in the form of the simple things. Play, camping, sport, music and the arts, face-to-face socialisation, service and gratitude programs. The number one indication that the revolution is here is the ‘no phones at school’ policies and these phone-free zones are now being replicated in our homes – particularly by parents with children below the age of 15.

The stories we tell our children shape the people they will become. In short, by almost every global measure we are better off than we were 15, 10 or even five years ago. For those of us who live and work in Australia, we haven’t had a recession for over 30 years. Yes, there are still significant global atrocities and inequities, however, we are moving forward and each generation is demanding and creating a higher standard of living within countries and across the world. The call to arms is being quietly spoken about and is gaining momentum, thanks to well-researched books and articles.

In short, hold off access to social media until your child is old enough to withstand the hazards, approx. 15-16 years of age. Online socialisation is fine in a moderate context balanced with an appreciation for hope, community, purpose and humanity.

Anna Owen
Principal, Sunshine Coast Grammar School