19 March 2024

New school program invites young guys to 'unplug to reconnect'

| Morgan Kenyon
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School kids at the unplugged programme by Menslink

For young people, growing up amid rapidly evolving technology can be both a blessing and a curse. Photo: Menslink.

Despite living, studying, working and socialising in a world supposedly more connected than ever before, there’s a hidden epidemic of isolation and loneliness affecting young Australians – one that Menslink educators say can be fuelled by ‘unconscious’ use of technology.

Menslink is a Canberra grassroots charity that provides free mentoring, education and counselling services to young men aged 10 to 25.

Menslink educators like Will Molloy visit schools across the ACT and its environs to introduce programs, including Unplugged, which invites young men and boys to take charge and have better control over what they do online rather than being swept up in the next big trend.

“Unplugged is all about how and why we consume what we do online, and how it affects us,” Will says.

“It’s a free, hour-long interactive session for young guys who have grown up without knowing what life was like before such sophisticated technology.

“We talk really openly about the influences of social media, gaming and online content platforms like YouTube, and we challenge students to question the time, content and impact they can have on our lives.”

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Unplugged covers a range of topics depending on the cohort involved, including how social media and technology companies make money through advertisements, subscriptions and affiliate services.

“We also talk about things like variable ratio reinforcement, which is the hidden gambling side of gaming, with loot boxes and resource packs being the driving factor,” Will says.

“AI algorithms can tailor your online environment not only to whom you subscribe to or follow, but also right down to what you hover over, what your friends are watching and how you interact with likes, shares and comments.

“Because of this, it’s become very easy to get stuck on an unconscious scroll and you might end up somewhere you never would have actively gone.”

Programs like Unplugged start a conversation around young fellas’ desire to belong and have strong relationships and how technology can influence their lives, positively and negatively.

School kids at the unplugged programme by Menslink

Menslink educators generally present to year cohorts from grades five to 12. Photo: Menslink.

Will had a lot on his plate during high school. As Menslink’s mentoring and education coordinator, he now has the chance to show young guys in similar situations that there are alternative pathways to achieving or even surpassing their goals.

“I’m someone who didn’t get good grades at school and had a lot of things going on at home during my teenage years, so I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and isolated and rely on technology to escape, yet I was still able to get to uni and find a job that I absolutely love,” he says.

“Having an honest conversation and making young fellas feel heard and listened to, helping them build trust in themselves and others – it’s the best job in the world.”

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Educators often ask what matters most to the young guys they speak to. Will used to hear about goals to have a family, land that dream job or become an elite athlete, but these days they tend to stick to the surface level.

“Very consistently now, it’s just to be rich, famous and attractive,” he says.

“It’s a message that sticks out strongly online through big personality influencers and it’s definitely transferring to everyday life for young fellas.”

Given the ACT-wide ban on phones in schools this year, the program comes at the perfect time.

“While we support separating school and screen time, Menslink approaches it through a conversation that gives blokes a bit of room to decide how they feel or what they think, rather than telling them what to do,” Will says.

“At the end of the day, programs like Unplugged are an opportunity to have a conversation about freedom, choice and independence. That’s what it’s all about.”

Menslink Unplugged is a free program that helps young men and boys objectively examine the issues they face while engaging with and living in an online world. Visit Menslink to find out more.

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davidmaywald2:36 pm 21 Mar 24

Great work guys, really good to see this rolling out across schools.

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