Principal’s Update

April 10, 2024  
Dr Julie Greenhalgh - Principal


Thank you to all the parents who attended the ArtsFest Showcase last week. The evening was a wonderful celebration of the artistic talents of many Senior School students. Many of them seemed very comfortable on the stage!

What was also very obvious was the talent of our Teaching and Support staff. We are much blessed with our staff at Illawarra Grammar.

Pack Away the Phone for the Holidays

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to encourage parents to keep their sons and daughters away from their iPhones over the holidays.

A recent article in The Australian Magazine (30-31 March) shone a bright light on the dramatic rise in adolescent mental health problems triggered by the smartphone, and young people’s abandonment of the real world for a virtual one.

This won’t come as shock to many parents, but the data underlining how childhood has been ‘re-wired’ is, nonetheless, disturbing.

In his new book, The Anxious Generation*, American social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, chronicles what he calls society’s “biggest blunder” – the way childhood has been transformed by a handful of technology companies.

Haidt’s book quotes Pew Research which states that, in 2015, one in four teens said they were online almost constantly; by 2022, the number had doubled to almost one in two.

The Australian Magazine also cites MIT Professor Sherry Turkle writing about smartphones: “We are forever elsewhere. This is a profound transformation of human consciousness and relationships, and it occurred between 2010 and 2015. This is the birth of phone-based childhood”, with Haidt adding these years were “the definitive end of play-based childhood”.

Haidt further notes that “US teens have displayed a large upturn in major depressive episodes, beginning around 2012” with the “trend sharper for girls than boys” as “depression has become roughly two and a half times more prevalent across all races and social classes”.

The Australian article tables a graph of a similar spike in young Australian adults reporting high or very high psychological distress, again more acute for girls than boys.

Further data shows that the first generation of Americans going through puberty with smartphones “became more anxious, depressed and self-harming”. Haidt says that social media platforms are “the most efficient conformity engines ever invented”.

The harms that arise from such conformity are fourfold: social deprivation, sleep deprivation, attention fragmentation and addiction. Addiction researcher, Anna Lembke, likens the smartphone to a “modern-day hypodermic needle, delivering digital dopamine 24/7 for a wired generation”.

Girls are more vulnerable, Haidt says, because they are “subjected to hundreds of times more social comparisons than girls have experienced for nearly all human evolution”, including “more cruelty and bullying because social media platforms incentivize and facilitate relational aggression”.

Haidt signals an urgent warning to reverse the trend because “we are losing a generation”. He claims that the iphone trains people to act in ways contrary to the broad traditions of moral, ethical and religious thinking – being aggressive, petty and cruel, gleaning admiration and self-regard from the fragility of “likes”, and the despondency of “dislikes”.

In a parallel development, the Parliamentary Library’s 2023 research paper on School Refusal reports another troubling phenomenon: absenteeism from school. In 2022 in Australian schools, the student attendance rate – the percentage of possible days that students in Years 1–10 attend school – was 86.5% while the attendance level – the proportion of students in Years 1–10 whose attendance rate is equal to or greater than 90% – was 49.9%. This is a sizeable drop from 2021 when the attendance rate was 90.9% and the attendance level was 71.2%. High levels of absenteeism mean less stability with friends and, of course, less learning.

However, Haidt is optimistic that the harm being done can be reversed. For this to occur, four foundational reforms are needed: more unsupervised play and childhood independence; no smartphones before high school; no social media before 16 years of age; and phone-free schools. If these changes can be implemented, Haidt bullishly predicts a “substantial improvement” in adolescent mental health in two years. I sincerely hope he is right.

So, what can parents do? The Anxious Generation details twenty rules for raising kids in the age of the iphone. Parents won’t be surprised by the plain and orthodox recommendations, but parents might, nonetheless, find the book a useful resource as they hold firm against children’s use of the iphone.

I hope you are able to pack away the family’s iphones for the school holidays.

*Haidt, J. (2024). The anxious generation: How the great rewiring of childhood is causing an epidemic of mental illness. Random House.


The staff and I have spent some time refreshing the School’s current Strategic Plan to reflect the priorties of a slightly altered leadership team.

The link to the new Strategic Plan for 2024 – 2026 can be found here.

P and F

The new Executive for the P and F was elected at last week’s AGM. Sincere thanks are extended to the outgoing team, so ably led by Mrs Lena Huda, for their generous work over the preceding twelve months, and to the new team whose names are listed later in the newsletter.


I wish everyone a safe and refreshing holiday and look forward to seeing the students back in Term II, in their winter uniform.


Chapel in Term II


Senior School News: Term II & Year 10 Updates