Heathdale flower 01st December 2023

Navigating Internet Access with Wisdom

As the year-end festivities commence, join us in celebrating the achievements of our student while navigating the inevitable weariness that accompanies the close of the year, as we share insights and advice on managing screen time, fostering Biblical values and helping our children navigate the digital landscape with wisdom and discernment.

Heathdale flower

The end of the year is often filled with a busyness like no other. The wonderful Year 6 graduation started the celebrations that will continue for the next two weeks – it is always a lovely time, and we hope and pray you and your children enjoy what is on offer. Our guiding principles are to spend time with each other in community, enjoy seeing what the children have achieved and learnt for the year, and enjoy learning more about Jesus. Traditions and fun at this special time are often what the children remember the most. I look forward to the Learning Expos, Celebration Nights and end-of-year events with excitement.

Yet, as we approach the joyous celebration of Jesus' birth and the enchantment of Christmas lights, we often additionally find ourselves amidst the inevitable weariness that tends to accompany the end of the year. Your children, like all of us, may be feeling the strain, and with fatigue often come moments of vulnerability.

As a parent, I readily confess to experiencing the occasional "Christmas tired grumps," and I understand particularly the challenges of navigating screen time with our children. In our household, despite being enthusiastic board gamers, the allure of phones is hard to resist during moments of boredom. It's a common struggle — one that extends far beyond our homes and into schools.

Recent data highlights the ubiquity of mobile devices in the lives of young Australians. In 2020, 56% of eleven-year-olds owned their own phone, with the average age for receiving one being 7.5 years old. Back in 2017, children aged six to thirteen were spending a staggering 32 hours a week on screens, leading to 62% of parents reporting family conflicts related to device usage. Children are becoming so clever at using devices that their skills often outstrip us as parents, and I often find myself asking my children how to do something on my phone. I am sure many of you are having the “should we get them a phone for Christmas” conversation.

In the context of our Primary school, one might assume that the age restrictions for social media platforms (typically set at thirteen) would spare us from these concerns. Additionally, the government's 2020 policy mandates that phones brought to school must be switched off and securely stored during the day, fostering a safe learning environment.

At Heathdale, student surveys tell us that while students feel safe and that teachers educate and deal effectively with bullying and cyberbullying, unfortunately the reality is that it still exists. The best website for parents I have found to give good advice in this space is the eSafety Commissioner

Now, I understand there may be an expectation for a comprehensive solution to navigate the digital landscape and safeguard our children from potential pitfalls. I certainly wish I had this, yet while I don't have a one-size-fits-all remedy, I do have valuable advice that has served us well in education particularly in a Christian school over the years.

Instead of focusing solely on-screen time as we often do, continue to nurture the values that align with what Jesus would want for our children. A child who embodies kindness, happiness, resilience and a sense of purpose is less likely to engage in harmful behaviours online. By fostering a mindset grounded in wholesome principles, they'll be less inclined to consume content that distorts the beauty of God's creation. When my children are on their phones, this is what I discuss: are they using it for good? While this sounds very simple, every time is an opportunity to build up values in this area.

Over the years I have also thought, my children wouldn’t engage in these types of behaviours and have often thought this is merely another parent's issue. However, I have come the realisation that the digital landscape is vast, and any child can have access to a tempting world that can be both wondrous and challenging. I've been surprised by what my own children encounter, prompting me to reflect on how we, as parents, might have fared with similar access in our younger years. Keeping children safe online has to be a priority.

If you find yourself grappling with these challenges, know that we are here to partner with you. Reach out to your homeroom teacher, and together, let's ensure our children navigate the upcoming school holidays and internet access with wisdom and discernment.

May the love and guidance of Jesus illuminate our path as we navigate these complexities together.

I look forward to seeing you all at our celebrations to conclude 2023.