Recently, social researcher Claire Madden spoke to St Catherine's staff and parents about raising screenagers. Her speech had some great insights into the challenges that 'kids these days' face, but one thing she said really stood out for me. "Teenagers are now always socialising." They might be sitting at home in their pyjamas watching TV, but they are sharing their 'snaps' with hundreds of their friends, or they are creating stories on Instagram, or if they're really old-school, they're on a Facebook group.
This struck me for two reasons. The first is that adults are very similar – there is an old adage "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" when in fact it is more like "Do what you love and you'll always be working a little bit". As adults, we shoot off that email reply at 9pm because it's easier to do it now than forgetting about it the next morning; or we read an interesting article about NAPLAN; or we sort through our email while we watch Married At First Sight. Ten years ago when everyone started having their work emails on their phones, it was a novelty and a time saving tactic, now it is impacting our wellbeing. It concerns me because we've learned this behaviour as adults, what will happen to today's teenagers if the behaviour is so natural to them – they may never be able to have an actual break from work.
The bedrock issue of non-stop digital socialising leads to the next layer: kids just don't socialise in person as much anymore. In a recent podcast Maggie Dent said kids are spending more time with "pixels than with people". This has a great impact on their developing social and interpersonal skills. We are already seeing the consequence of screenagers in the workplace. Just take a look at the first page of a Google search on millennials in the workplace; it's all about how to manage millennials as though they are some kind of alien being. One imagines David Attenborough following the millennial in their natural habitat of a group chat.
One of the biggest hurdles millennials face is their underdeveloped interpersonal relationship skills. Lots of millennials admit (in fact nearly 40 per cent of them) to interacting more with their phones than with actual people. Furthermore, when they are in an awkward social interaction they would rather bury their heads in their phones than face it up front. Again, this appears to be a result of a decade of focusing on their online interactions instead of face-to-face interactions. HR departments and managers are trying to boost millennials' skills by promoting things like public speaking and workshops on communication but the true value will be in the employee who already has these skills.
So what can we do to promote pro-social behaviours and students with strong interpersonal skills? Firstly, in the junior school we are focusing on promoting pro-social behaviours through the Positive Peeps program. Kirsty Smith and Arnna Serhon have a weekly lunchtime session focusing on different elements of positive psychology. We created a program based on a range of books the girls are familiar with and how these promote positive activities, most recently kindness and 'bucket filling'. In the senior school, we are working with Year 9 on the importance of respect, a core value here at St Cath's, and how it feeds into positive relationships. Year 10 are also looking at relationships in their academic care time.
However, pro-social behaviour needs to be role-modelled and prioritised at home. If your daughter is constantly talking to the same people through an app, ask if they would like to come round one day instead. Create boundaries around socialising (and working) online of an evening. Ask questions about your daughter's friends and discuss their interests or their perspective on situations.
But most importantly, encourage your daughter to talk to people face to face and on the phone. Actually talking to people, which may come quite naturally to you, is still a skill she will need when she enters the workplace. Rather than sending 22 text messages to organise where to pick her up, discuss it on the phone. If you are ordering takeaway, ask her to call the restaurant rather than use Uber Eats. Or ask her to book an appointment for herself on the phone.
These strategies might sound like the smallest of things but when you consider how these skills need to be learned for future success in the workplace, there is great value in encouraging moments of interpersonal growth.
Daisy Turnbull Brown Director of Positive Psychology | History Teacher B Arts B Com Grad Dip Ed MA (Theology ) Follow our dedicated Positive Psychology Twitter account: @StCathsPosPsy
A private Anglican day and boarding school for girls, Kindergarten to Year 12. Founded in 1856,
in the eastern suburbs of Sydney.
26 Albion Street Waverley
NSW 2024 Australia
Telephone +61 2 8305 6200