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Screenager-bashing wont make them happy and sporty

​Another day, another tired old screenager-bashing op-ed by some out-of-touch old white guy – this time one spruiking the state government’s $100 Active Kids rebate in a thinly veiled advertorial for bringing back 1950’s style sporting choices on Saturdays.
Beyond failing to cite any research on the apparent link between obesity or suicidality and young people’s technology use that Mr Jolly Hockey Sticks Henskens asserts, he neglects to name check a single female in his roll call of great Australian sportspeople. 
Goolagong-Cawley, Gould, Fraser, Boyle and Cuthbert all seem to be of the era of ‘sportsing’ he longs for. Nope, not as much as a Freeman, Perry or Healy (as in Alyssa, not her uncle Ian) are mentioned, even though the Women’s Ashes are firmly ours (we’re tied at 32 titles each in the Men’s – so actually ‘historically’ they’re ‘ours’ only 50% of the time – if cinders of a cricket ball is your thing).
Instead of whinging about kids being more interested in their devices than talking to  their grandparents, let’s stop and have a think about why – what exactly are kids doing online that makes it so engrossing, engaging and in a small number of cases highly problematic/addictive*? Why are online worlds, games, quests and adventures more appealing than homework and how can we harness the content and design of what young people are enjoying to be educational and empowering (without being chocolate covered broccoli).
Let’s consider who gave them these $1000+ internet-enabled devices instead of soccer boots to begin with. And why – to ‘keep up with the iPhoneses’?  To keep them quiet while parents enjoy smashed avo on toast on Saturday morning instead of schlepping around Sydney in petrol guzzling SUV’s to make it to Little A’s?
Or the way that the current education standard seems to demand kids BYOD, then expects them to have magical abilities to differentiate between ‘good’ (read: educational) and bad (read: fun) online activities without anyone ever helping them learn what constitutes digital health and wellbeing, let alone digital literacy.
Let’s reflect on the number of parents on the sideline of the netball court engrossed in their smartphones and the message that parental role modelling through a screen and their excessive sharenting practices send to young people. The toddler tantrum isn’t because they want their phone, it’s because they want their parents attention.
Technology is an easy target for a generation of people who can’t remember their passwords and whose nostalgia for a ‘simpler time’ plays a handy role in preventing degeneration of their white-Australia-esque memories. 
You call them digital zombies – I call them already fed up with a political and economic system that exclude and ignores them before they’re even old enough to get a Facebook account.
You call for more sporsting facilities and Olympians, I call for more public transport and investment in public education.  You think $207 million to help pay for sportsing equipment distracts us from the $16 billion (and counting) for Westconnex and a rubbish upgrade (which is effectively a downgrade) of the Bankstown Line?
You call them fat and sad, I call them connecting and collaborating in ways you will never understand because all you see is a screen and judge it without asking what’s happening within the device.  When you sit down and ask a young person to share their online world, the things they’re doing, conversations they’re having and friendships they’re making – you might actually find something to write about that’s beyond jaded stereotypes and flimsy assertions that provide great fodder for teaching how to spot #fakenews.

Old man yelling at cloud (storage) doesnt help us learn to balance our use of technology or build the social-emotional skills required both online and on the sportsing field to be most valued player.  Nor I doubt will throwing money at infrastructure without empowering the communities who run the sportsing clubs.

Jocelyn is a psychologist who was a state level swimmer but a lousy netballer. Her Dad was president of Lidcombe Waratahs JSFC in the mid 1990s and her Grandmother has an OAM for service to Women’s Cricket. 

* Dont get me started on the use/misuse of the word ‘addiction’ as a catchall term for anything we do that feels good, is highly compelling. That’s a blog for another day.

About Jocelyn Brewer

Jocelyn is a Sydney-based psychologist and the creator of Digital Nutrition. She is an accredited teacher and has been studying cyberpsychology for a decade.


  1. John on July 20, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    Who taught students how to get on line and what to do? For the majority of cases, it’s not their parents or teachers but students worked it out themselves or from peers. How skillful? Students are never disengaged, they just disengaged with what they don’t like and re-engage in something else and that includes being online, playing sport or doing something else with their peers. The throwing of money in the hope that students will play sport is just ridiculous…. the only students that will be benefit are those that play sport now (and that can afford it).

  2. Simon Keily on July 21, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    How fun it can be to be in a classrooms of teenagers and have discussion about what they do, say and share online. They teach themselves amazing things, they learn stuff, they find humour. They also find connection. How they are intrigued when they find my online profile. How may followers do you have on twitter sir? Do you have a YouTube account? What is your favourite online game. They say my stuff is boring and I say their online videos are stupid. They tell me I am “lit” when they see my twitter followers. We learn from each other and they open up their world, that at times they keep secret from critical voices. As we venture into an open, digital and connected world we indeed do want them to open their online practices (but we all need private spaces too) and have meaningful discussions about how to be a good digital citizen.

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