Are screens a mental health risk at your child's school?

If BYOD and 1:1 device policies are in place - as they are in nearly every school across Australia - the answer is most likely ‘yes.’

That’s according to former prime minister Julia Gillard, now Chair of the Global Partnership for Education. 

Writing this week in Teacher Magazine, Gillard observes that the learning benefits of today’s connected classrooms are well known: access to the world’s information riches, to teaching resources of every imaginable kind, to platforms that encourage creativity and collaborative problem-solving from an early age.

But she adds that the unforeseen consequences of the digital revolution are coming into focus more and more  - in our schools and in the lives of our children. 

According to data from the Australian Child Health Poll, conducted by the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, “almost all” Australian teens and two-thirds of primary-aged children own their own mobile device.

And in many cases, those devices - or additional ones - are mandated by the school.

Few educators, it seems, thought ahead to consider how constant connectivity might affect our kids’ emotional health and wellbeing, specifically the risk of cyberbullying and its impact on an entire generation. 

One in five Australian children have experienced some form of cyberbullying, according to eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant. 

Kids have always been bullied at school, Gillard acknowledges. But cyberbullying raises the stakes - and intensifies the fallout - in ways that continue to defy easy solutions.

SBS_The-Hunting-Splash-1-1

“Cyberbullying, unlike traditional bullying, is said to be far more invasive and complex,” Gillard explains. “It can range from abusive text messages, humiliation, exclusion, imitation, and nasty gossip. 

“There is no doubt that bullying of this nature may have an impact on the mental health of young people.

“Increased interconnectedness in the online world has meant that schoolyard comments and bullying behaviours no longer stop when the home bell rings,” Gillard observes. “The bullying now takes place online, after hours.” And frequently on school-mandated devices.

“There is no doubt that bullying of this nature may have an impact on the mental health of young people.

Tragedies like the suicide of Northern Territory teen Amy “Dolly” Everett, who was hounded by schoolmates online, have raised public awareness of the grave risks of cyberbullying - and set alarm bells ringing for schools.

Recent television series like 13 Reasons Why and The Hunting (see main image) have also helped to bring the issue home.

Schools now find themselves in the eye of the storm, with increasing community demand to establish and maintain a digital duty of care towards all students.

Yet evidence-based research into how best to accomplish this remains scarce, Gillard points out. Will mobile phone bans, like the one enacted earlier this year in Victorian schools, be the answer? 

Or will it, as she suggests, simply shift the burden to police screen-time to “the often time-poor parent, who can be entirely unaware of how their children are being harmed online, or what harm their child may be doing to others online”?

Julia Gillard

One thing is clear: In our always-connected school communities, the responsibility for keeping students cyber-safe needs to be a shared one - with government, schools and parents all playing a role. 

“Technology is an inevitable part of our modern lives,” Gillard concludes. “We can’t protect our young people from the pitfalls of technology 24/7, but we can work to improve their mental health in and out of the classroom.”

Family Zone helps schools AND parents to create cyber-safe communities where our digital kids can thrive.

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Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Social Media, cyberbullying, wellbeing, mental health

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