Principal's Video News

In recent weeks, one of the major media outlets has commenced a campaign to bar any young person under the age of 16 from access to social media. The current age is 13, although many younger children have access. Almost all St Joseph’s students have a mobile phone and most use one or more social media apps. While these tools offer unprecedented opportunities for learning and connection, they also present significant challenges and dangers.

24/7 communication has its attractions, however the downside of mobile phones in a school setting is the impact on face-to-face social interaction and disruption to learning. Very few students need to be contactable during the school day. In an emergency, a parent can call Reception, anyone else can leave a message or text which the student can access at 3.15pm.

Social media has many positives, however excessive or inappropriate use can impact our mental health, sometimes contributing to anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. Young people are particularly vulnerable, including to the pressures of online image and peer comparison, which can affect their self-esteem and overall wellbeing.

Cyberbullying is another serious issue. The anonymity provided by the internet can embolden individuals to say hurtful things they wouldn't say face-to-face. I have personal experience of this having occasionally received ‘outraged’ emails with content from which the writer quickly resiles when I asked to meet face-to-face. Hurtful and offensive online messages to young people can result in significant emotional distress, leading to academic decline and, in severe cases, self-harm.

We all know that the internet is rife with inappropriate content. Without proper guidance and monitoring, students may be exposed to harmful material that can influence their behavior and attitudes negatively. There is also the risk of online predators who exploit the anonymity of social media to target young users.

Earlier this week, families of students in Years 7 and 8 will have received communication from the College asking that they help ensure that students follow some basic rules and expectations regarding social media use. This is a result of some recent inappropriate online behaviour in our younger year levels which has caused conflict and distress. I thank families for your support of the College in this.

One of the most important things we can do as parents is to take an active role in our children's digital lives. Here are some strategies to help your child use social media appropriately and remain safe online:

  1. Open Communication: Foster an environment where your child feels comfortable discussing their online experiences. Encourage them to share both positive and negative interactions.
  2. Set Boundaries: Establish clear rules regarding mobile phone use. This can include setting time limits, especially during school nights, and designating phone-free zones, such as the dinner table and bedrooms (we regularly see sleep deprived students too exhausted to learn due to phones in bedrooms!).
  3. Educate About Privacy: Teach your child the importance of privacy settings on social media platforms. Ensure they understand the risks of sharing personal information and the permanence of their online actions.
  4. Monitor Usage: Regularly check your child’s social media accounts and mobile phone activity. Use parental control apps to help supervise their online interactions.
  5. Promote Positive Behaviour: Encourage your child to use social media to foster positive connections and engage in educational and extracurricular activities. Highlight examples of responsible digital behaviour.
  6. Be a Role Model: Demonstrate responsible use of mobile phones and social media. Children often emulate their parents, so exhibit the behaviours you want to see in them.

St Joseph’s is committed to maintaining an environment which is safe for all students. We work hard to educate and empower our students with knowledge which will help them to identify and avoid unhealthy behaviours online. As part of this ongoing education, we also remind students that they can raise any concerns about online safety with their homeroom teacher, coordinator or trusted adult. We encourage you to have ongoing conversations with your child about online safety. The Australian Government, through the eSafety Commissioner and their website, offers some excellent advice for parents about how to have age-appropriate conversations with your children about online safety. This can be found here: https://www.esafety.gov.au/parents

We recently became aware that the Sydney based author Oliver Phommavanh had been charged with allegedly grooming a person online who he believed to be a 13 year old girl. Oliver has visited St Joseph’s as a guest speaker in the past, speaking to groups of students from the classes who graduated in 2020, 2021 and 2022. He held a working with children check and was always in the presence of College staff. We have no reason to believe that he has had any subsequent contact with any St Joseph’s student, however we have written to the parents of these graduates to inform them about this matter.

The commencement of the redevelopment of our Arts and Technology Precinct is imminent. This week we have confirmed that the successful tenderer for the project is Plan Group. We expect work to commence next month.

And finally, this Sunday, the Geelong Big Freeze MND Fundraiser is taking place at the St Joseph’s v St Mary’s GFL match. Clearly there were insufficient A, B and C grade celebrities available and I have been invited to be one of the ‘sliders’. Sincere thanks to those families who have already made a donation in support of Motor Neuron Disease research. If anyone wishes to contribute, please follow this link or go to Big Freeze Geelong on social media.

God Bless

Tony Paatsch
Principal