The smartphone generation

On our return to school in person, it is timely to revisit the use of mobile phones at School. There are occasions when it is appropriate and beneficial for students to have access to mobile phones. Mobile phones are an integral part of our lives, and they should be used safely and with discretion while at School.

Remember the Commodore 64? Nintendo Game Boy? Tamagotchi?

The gadgets of the 1980s and 1990s were undeniably entertaining and Gen X teenagers invested countless hours mastering these devices. Remember your first mobile phone? The ‘dumb’ phone that required considerable button pushing to construct messages on the small black and white screen? These iconic devices were from an era of one-dimensional and predominantly disconnected domestic devices that gave us some excitement, but arguably were insignificant to the functioning of our lives.

Fast forward to 2022, and we cannot do without our ‘smart’ mobile phones. These devices are integral to our lives—both adults and teenagers alike—and play a significant part in our children’s relationship with technology. Our smart mobile phones facilitate communication, entertainment, video and image recording, navigation, organisation, and impressively, give us a world of knowledge at our fingertips. How could we live without them?

Generation Z students are well established at Girls Grammar and Generation Alpha has just arrived. They are ‘digital natives’ who have interacted with technology—iPads, home automation, smartphones—for most of their lives. Generation Alpha is characterised by McCrindle Research (2021) as global, digital, social, mobile, and visual.

For teens today, mobile phones have created a tension between their privacy and their availability. They also experience the tension between the safety a phone can offer and the vulnerability that can emerge. The most significant challenge seems to be the tension between finding meaning and the often meaninglessness of the online experience. Most would recognise that technology influences the way teens construct their identities.

A smartphone is a tool that can create both moments of joy and moments of despair. Many teens have learned how to best use their phones with balance and respect—supported by role modelling by significant people in their lives. There is helpful information available for parents about how children can integrate phones into their lives in a healthy way. The eSafety Commissioner offers skills and advice for parents about preventing and managing online challenges. Girls Grammar provides parents access to psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg’s expertise on School TV about social media and digital reputation. While teens are savvy navigators of screens, an education about the cultural, relational, and settings aspects of phones, is critical.

There are occasions when it is appropriate and beneficial for students to have access to mobile phones at School. Students are expected to use mobile phones safely and with discretion while at School. Girls Grammar cares about the safety, privacy, and wellbeing of all students and therefore asks them to be familiar with the mobile phone and social media expectations on pages 12 and 14 of the Student Diary. There are occasions when the use of mobile phones by students is restricted. Consideration of screen time at School is important for wellbeing. Disconnecting from screens enables us to connect authentically with others in person and participate in a range of activities.

Currently, mobile phones are ubiquitous. However, in years to come our teens will reminisce about smartphones. What impact will the next generation of devices reveal? It is education and our relationship with devices that will help us manage whatever new technology emerges.

Ms Melinda Egan
Dean of Students