From the Principal

My Digital Me – our lives online and how we live them

The Australian Psychological Society has recently released a very significant set of survey responses, which examined the effect of social media and digital technology on the wellbeing of Australians. The survey was undertaken by over 1000 adults and approximately 150 teens between 14 and 17 years of age.

The complete report can be found here: Digital Me Survey Report, but a number of salient points emerged from the sample group:

  • 90 per cent of Australians surveyed use social media, with Facebook and YouTube the most popular channels across all age groups.
  • Teens spend 3.3 hours a day on social media and adults 2.6 hours. Some teens log on to their favoured channels as much as 50 times a day.
  • Australians are highly attached to their mobile devices: 78.8 per cent of teens and 53.5 per cent of adults have what psychologists refer to as high mobile phone involvement. This can involve behaviour like using a mobile phone for no particular purpose and being unable to reduce mobile phone use.
  • Australian adults who are highly involved with their mobile phones are also more likely to use mobile phones immediately before sleep, immediately on waking and while eating.
  • The high use of social media and technology is impacting on self-esteem, with two in three teens feeling pressure to look good. Adults find Instagram in particular fuels concern about their appearance.
  • Many teens are contacted by or make contact with strangers via Facebook – 15 per cent say this occurs daily.
  • 60 per cent of parents do not monitor the online activity of their children.
  • Teens and adults report experiencing or perpetrating bullying and antisocial behaviour online.
  • More than one in four teenagers has been bullied or trolled on social media
  • Despite this, Australians report that their experiences of using their favoured online social media platforms is generally positive. Many using social media channels to connect with family, friends and to entertain themselves.

These results are not unique and mirrored those found in other studies. It is clear we value aspects of our social media and online lives, but that for some adults and children there are significant negative experiences also.

In my dealings with poor decision making, ill-considered actions and, occasionally, ill-intent online by young people, I am consistently struck by how much they feel that these negative experiences are “just what happens” online, and this has concerned me for some time. Some recent conversations with parents, staff and senior students has sharpened this concern.

Consider our face to face behaviour, where a societal understanding of etiquette has developed over centuries and is largely understood and accepted across groups and ages. In contrast, etiquette online has developed organically, by and large without legal or structural intervention or guidance. This means that there is not that same shared understanding, and I know that many adults struggle to understand why students think a certain behaviour is quite acceptable, when to an adult it is clearly very inappropriate.

As a school, we need to try to bridge this understanding, reduce damaging or negative experiences online and confirm an online community with a values-based culture that is analogous to the values-based face to face culture in our community. Historically, online initiatives have largely involved older adults telling young people what should happen through policies, procedures, agreements and ‘rules’ of other sorts – all of which are written by the adults, with an adult understanding, based on the face to face, historic, etiquette I described earlier. It is clear to me that this ‘top down’ approach is not having the impact we would want and we need to approach this using other, additional tools.

As a part of one of our strategic projects involving student wellbeing and agency, Tintern Grammar is initiating a program to partner students with staff and parents in reviewing our online policies, expectations and landscape. This will be a key student-focussed plank of our operational Plan, overseen by Tintern Grammar Executive and enacted in partnership with our senior School Leaders. The start of this project will involve consultation with students in both Senior College and Middle School, staff and parents and I will ensure that you are informed and kept abreast of it, as it progresses.

Online activity, increasing density of social media experiences, the proliferation of social media platforms, along with a lack of agency oversight of online behaviour, are all going to continue into the foreseeable future. So this will be a long-term project, conducted over multiple years, not unlike our pro-diversity initiative, that has been operating for the last two years. We will be aiming to embed this in multiple dimensions of the student experience at Tintern, to ensure that it becomes ‘what we do at Tintern’ in the same way as our student make the same assumption about the Tintern Compass Values.

I look forward to us all joining forces to develop of healthier and more positive online community over the coming years at Tintern.

Factis non verbis

Brad Fry
Principal 

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