I have just finished reading The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt. If you haven’t read it, get a copy. It is an important book.

The overall thrust of the book is that the current mental health crisis among young people has been caused by the advent of the smart phone…children are now experiencing a phone-based childhood instead of a play-based childhood and the effects of that are profound: increased anxiety due to unrealistic comparisons on social media; the pursuit of likes and followers and the misery caused when you cannot keep up with the popular crowd; an increased number of contacts but far fewer real friendships; a lack of face to face conversation and real life contact in the physical world.

Haidt has an interesting way of viewing what has happened. A few decades ago parents become very fearful that their children were in danger in the community from paedophiles or from being abducted, or getting physically hurt when they were unsupervised, so they became nervous of allowing their children to do things by themselves and thus learn resilience and independence. In contrast to that over-emphasis on safety in the physical world, parents have given their kids the most extraordinary access to the virtual world through their smart phones, a mad and dangerous world in which they are almost entirely unsupervised. In truth, says Haidt, the physical world is no more dangerous than it used to be and may actually be safer, because all the paedophiles and weirdos are online, which is where their children now spend all their time. The online world is a minefield of negative influences, run by companies whose algorithms are designed to cause addiction to their apps. The potential dangers there are far greater than merely climbing a tree or going to the shops unsupervised.

Apparently girls are more affected by social media than boys, because girls are more likely to be comparing themselves to others and feeling inadequate about their looks, their skin, their clothes, their body shape. All that breeds anxiety and a feeling of inadequacy. The same can be the case with boys but they are more likely to be watching porn, getting unrealistic ideas about relationships, seeing girls being abused and objectified and learning that it is ok to talk about them in a demeaning manner. Real relationships with girls, requiring respect and conversation, are awkward, and there is the danger of rejection, but no matter if you can get your fix online. No danger of rejection there. Is that what we want for our boys?

I don’t think Haidt is exaggerating the effects that smart phones and social media have had. However, he has a simple way that he thinks parents and schools can turn back the tide: far less access to phones and far more access to and encouragement of what he calls ‘free play.’ Playing outside builds character. Children learn how to deal with bumps and bruises and, when they are left on their own, they also learn how to resolve conflicts, without adult interference. That is an important rite of passage. Play time in school used to be a mad welter of playground football and tag…now it can be totally silent with every child glued to their phone. Does anyone think that is progress?

In some ways I actually think that this is quite a good advertisement for boarding schools. Here at St. Columba’s we can’t ban phones because we are largely a boarding school and that would not be fair or realistic. In any case, learning to use phones responsibly is something that children need to do. But access to phones here is limited, while all pupils play some sport 6 days a week after school, building face to face relationships in the team sports which we think have so much to teach them. Many children in other schools go home at 3.30 p.m. and spend the rest of the day on their screens. Our children here are kept very busy and I doubt that there is a single parent who does not appreciate that. Prepare for a renewed interest in boarding schools!

Last week we had the new intake for September in for testing. What a great crowd! I wrote to all their parents earlier this week to urge them to hold off on smart phones for their children, if it is not too late, or to find a way of limiting or monitoring the apps on the phones, if they already have them. What is most important when children come here is that they learn to interact face to face, to deal with each other in the physical world and not to be drawn into the dog eat dog world of social media before they can cope with it. I am not sure that any of us can cope with it, actually, but the longer it can be delayed the better for the children.

School and parents are in this together and we need to collaborate to beat back the incoming tide. Awareness of these dangers is growing and perhaps the tide is already turning. If we can set a different value to the use of social media and phones here in our own school community, I think we will find that we will be on the right side of history.

Harry Williams, Form V, writes on his recent experience taking part in the European Youth Parliament.

From April 3rd to the 8th I was invited to a European Youth Parliament National Session which took place between Cork and Dublin, concluding with a general assembly in the Dáil Éireann. I was in Dunmore East at the time meaning my dad had the pleasure of driving me about two hours to Cork for the registration and first day. After saying goodbye I made my way to the table at the back of Cork College FET, filled with faces that I’d soon come to know and, after a few technical difficulties, I was up and running with my very own lanyard and committee that I would soon be a part of. Since I was there by myself and didn’t really see anybody I could recognize from the regional session I had done a few months prior, I was slightly by myself. There were kids milling about the large conference room, laughing and chatting amongst themselves. They all seemed quite content in their little circles of comfort, so I decided to put on my big boy boots and walked towards the nearest group of people and introduced myself.

I was terrified as I walked up, since you always expect a bit of shunning or some sort when meeting new children your age but, to no one’s surprise, everybody was extremely welcoming and considerate. Turns out there were a couple faces I could recognise from the Dublin session and after reintroducing ourselves (and, at the time, me remembering none of their names) we got to reminiscing on the whimsical things we took part in at the regionals. Remembering this helped a lot with reconnecting, and so did the absolutely amazing lunch of a cold service station sandwich they gave us. I would become very familiar with these in the coming days of the event.

After everybody registered they began with the introductions of the organisers of the event and ”energisers”. For those in the dark an “energiser” is just about the most mortifying thing you can think of doing as a cool and mysterious teenager, group singing and dancing. Typically an organiser will get into the middle of a large circle of adolescents and start singing a “sing after me song” in which the rest of the room copies what the organiser is doing/saying. After a couple of excruciating and also weirdly fun minutes, we assembled into our committees with our chairpersons making their own introductions. The chairperson is similar to that of the mom/dad of the group who is a couple years older and supervises the committee so we actually get stuff done. Then we moved upstairs and got to getting to know each other by playing name games, dancing, and debating morality and guilt.

Following this, we had some tea and biscuit (we were only allowed one) and went back to playing catch with the speaking ball or guessing which instrument the person next to us is likely to play. Once the group had decided I was a tin whistler, we had dinner (a slice of vaguely stale lasagna) and transferred over to our hostel for the next four days. After unpacking and meeting the roommates, I went down and began the nightly ritual of playing a game of cards with way too many people, putting a couple cards into my pockets, winning, and then heading to bed just as I was going to lose. The next day we continued with the team building, this time with competitions between committees.

After dominating every other group, we started thinking about ideas for our resolution. The committee I was on was called TRAN, or the Committee for Transport and Tourism. Our proposing question was “In light of the 2050 EU carbon target, how should the EU further improve the sustainability of domestic and international transportation?” As riveting as it may sound, for me it was actually my first choice. So I was happy to waffle on as much as possible about high-speed rails and how planes and rich people are bad. The following two days were spent on what was called “committee work”. In normal terms, a bunch of kids get together and try their best to come up with a solution to a major EU wide problem. It actually went quite smoothly, bar a few hiccups about monopolies and world domination.

Once we had finished with all of this committee work we were given a day’s break to go to Fotá, Ireland’s premier wildlife picture taking area. However the organizers of the event seemed to have forgotten that it was April in Ireland so Fotá, Ireland’s premier wildlife picture taking area, was closed due to storms. As such the organizers brought us to the next best thing, Kung-Fu Panda 4. After a mid-tier Kung-Fu Panda movie, we made the transfer to Dublin and had some delicious lunch (cold service station sandwiches). We unpacked our bags in a newer and nicer hostel and headed downstairs for more music and card games. That night every committee’s resolution was released for all of the other committees to critique and tear apart. This led to a few dorm wars but thankfully only a few lives were lost.

The next morning was a great healthy start with one apple for breakfast and the hope that I could make it the next 4 hours without eating anything. We made the ten minute bus ride to the Dáil Éireann and got our very own passes and metal detector tests before heading in. The chamber was exactly like on TV, but in real life. The whole situation didn’t quite feel serious until the speaker of the Dáil came and gave us a talk. At which point I began to understand that I was, in fact, sitting in the seat of major politicians in Ireland. After the Lord Mayor of Dublin spoke next, we began the General Assembly. This was a process in which one committee would give an opening speech, then there would be two position speeches (speeches given by opposing or agreeing committees), followed by three rounds of open debate.

These rounds of open debate would start by the jury calling on around six points of interest from opposing committees and then after which the proposing committee would respond as best they could. Once these debates were finished, there was a closing speech and then all of the committees would vote on the motion and whether it should pass. Once the votes were tallied, and the resolution passed or failed, the whole process was restarted. On the first day, there were three committees before lunch, two after, and then a coffee break. After the coffee break (still one biscuit) we began the final two. We finished around four o’ clock after which we went back to the hostel to enjoy more live music and dancing and cards. The final day we had three committees before lunch and then the final committee proposing after lunch. TRAN (my committee) was third on the second day, so I had plenty of time to tear out my hair over every single word on our resolution in an attempt to predict what people would criticize. Of course, I wasn’t even close to any of them but at least I felt like I was doing something. When our committee was proposing the time went by a little too quickly in the run up to my turn. I was responding to the second round of open debate which was stressful enough, but the whole operation being televised and having every team member throwing sticky notes with valuable information on them at me didn’t help. But I managed to get through it without making a complete fool of myself which I was quite happy with. On top of that I managed to tear down another committees’ resolution as they had forgotten to include a way to solve one major issue that they had mentioned in their very own resolution. So if that’s not indicative of a great time I don’t know what is.

Our ending ceremony was emotional as the organizers had spent the last 9 months doing what their names suggest, so their attachment was definitely reasonable and if I was in their position I probably would’ve shed a few tears as well. After the closing, we got a goodie bag from the government and after a few photos, exchanging numbers, and collecting bags, I said my goodbyes and headed back to school. The whole ordeal left me quite exhausted but also very satisfied. There is something very special about the EYP program. It teaches you how to become fast friends, as well as slight enemies. The competition was good-spirited and at the end of the day we were all just happy to have done it. I would highly highly recommend the whole thing to anyone who is even moderately interested in not politics, but making a small change.

An interesting story I heard about during the session was that one of the resolutions that got turned down in a previous national session was then redone in an international session. This was passed in the international session, which led to a committee in the actual European Parliament proposing a real proposition that was noticeably similar to the international sessions, and it then getting passed. So if you ever feel as though nothing you do actually impacts those around you, maybe reconsider. It could be that by doing one of the silly little regional sessions you’ll find that tearing apart other people’s ideas while giving no solution in the meanwhile is actually very very fun. 

We are delighted to host an Open Evening for prospective pupils and their parents will take place on the evening of Thursday 16th May, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

This will be an opportunity for pupils seeking entry in 2025, 2026 or 2027 at any age to see around the College with their parents. There will be a reception, with teachers available for questions, followed by introductory talks, and then short tours given by Junior pupils.

If you would like to come to the Open Evening, please contact us via email – admissions@stcolumbas.ie – or phone 01-4906791.


This year’s SCC Book Week is running from Wednesday 17 to Tuesday 24 April.

A variety of activities and competitions will take place in the library including ‘Crack the Code’, ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Supper’ and ‘Book Worms’. 

Among the other events planned are an Author Visit on Wednesday from Science Fiction and Fantasy novelist Conor Kostick, ‘First Year Speed Dating with Books’ on Thursday, a Book Tasting in the BSR on Friday and ‘Drop Everything and Read’ on Saturday morning.