Q: Since when did primary school become a place where your child could be bullied into sending nude photos - or receive hate-filled messages like “I am going to F-ing kill you”?
A: Since right now, as our kids navigate big changes in online behaviour in a post-lockdown world.
Now that most schools have reopened, parents and teachers alike are reporting a disturbing spike in digital safety issues from cyberbullying to sexting. Yes, our kids are back in the classroom … but are they really back to normal? What can parents do to safeguard them in an environment of heightened risk?
Screen-time on steroids
It’s no secret that social distancing restrictions during the pandemic led to a massive surge in device use by young and old alike, as working, learning, and socialising from home became the confining “new normal” across the globe.
Of course we cut our kids more slack when it came to screen-time. With school, daycare, playdates and activities all cancelled, how else were we supposed to occupy our active families during the long, tedious weeks spent indoors?
One survey of more than 3,000 parents found that the average time kids spent online doubled during the pandemic. For nearly half of the children studied, screen-time increased by a whopping 500 percent
Not surprisingly, the same study found 85% of parents were worried about their family’s screen-time.
More than half were concerned that their kids were becoming addicted to screens, and many respondents described incidents of cyberbullying, explicit content, and requests for personal information.
It's not the hours, it's the habits
But the real worry for parents, say experts, isn’t about some extra hours playing games or watching videos. “It's whether their children are forming habits that will continue after the pandemic's over,” says author and educator James M. Lange, author of Distracted: Why Students Can't Focus and What You Can Do About It.
Unfortunately, there’s evidence to suggest that’s exactly what’s happening now. What’s more, at least some children are bringing those changed habits back to school with them, and increasing the risk of online harm to themselves and others.
Because it’s not just the increased screen-time that’s the issue here. It’s the accelerated scope of their online activity - especially on social media and messaging apps intended for adults.
Many parents who had previously barred their underage children from Instagram or Snapchat or TikTok, for example, looked the other way during lockdown. Now that school has resumed, there are signs that leniency may be fuelling a bullying mini-boom. (For a fuller discussion of age restrictions and social media, see
In lockdown, bored kids were also likely to explore more adventurous, and potentially dangerous places online. Discord, for example - a platform that was once geared specifically to gamers that allows kids to create their own server to hang out online - or VSCO, a popular photo-filtering and sharing app similar to Instagram, associated with a certain “look” coveted by teen girls.
For many children, lockdown conditions meant access to a wider range of devices - phones especially. Yet the data linking phone ownership with cyberbullying is very clear. For primary school students, having a cellphone is closely associated with both real-world and online bullying, both as perpetrator and victim.
Four Australian states - Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania - have now instituted phone bans for public school students at the primary level. But in other states and territories and many private schools, smartphones are coming to school in ever-greater numbers - creating safety issues across the entire school community.
Online harm: going viral
Since the pandemic, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner has reported a 40 percent increase in all forms of online harm - with 15 percent of those involving direct threats of harm - and a 21 percent increase in of cyberbullying among young people, including
What can I do to protect my child?
But how to prevent pandemic screen habits from morphing into permanent screen-time habits? eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant advises mums and dads to:
Experts agree: Talking to your children about bullying and about online safety in general is the best prevention of all. And remember, some children may not express their emotions verbally - so be sure to be on the look-out for any anxious or aggressive behaviour that may indicate a problem.
What should the school be doing?
Do schools also have a responsibility to keep kids safe online? Absolutely. Their duty of care for students during school hours extends to online harms as well as physical ones - and this is especially relevant when schools mandate BYOD policies.
Family Zone’s holistic cyber safety solutions make it easy to keep children safe from online harm and distraction at school, at home and everywhere in between. If your school isn’t already a Family Zone partner, find out more today at https://bit.ly/3g2APrM.
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