• Tech­nol­ogy sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies Screen use ex­pos­ing two-year-olds to bul­ly­ing $760,000 fund­ing in­jec­tion

The Sunday Times - - NEWS - REGINA TITELIUS Health Re­porter

PAR­ENTS of tod­dlers are at break­ing point over how to con­trol their chil­dren’s use of dig­i­tal de­vices, a WA ex­pert at the helm of a new cy­ber-bul­ly­ing project warns.

Pro­fes­sor Donna Cross, of the Telethon Kids In­sti­tute, said mums and dads were “vul­ner­a­ble” and in “des­per­ate” need of sup­port to deal with the tech­nol­ogy di­vide.

“Par­ents are feel­ing so com­pletely over­whelmed, out of their depth and have no (dig­i­tal) lit­er­acy and no ex­pe­ri­ence to be able to sup­port their de­ci­sion-mak­ing with chil­dren,” Pro­fes­sor Cross said.

“There has been so lit­tle re­search and peo­ple are just guess­ing at ways they can take ac­tion.

“In par­tic­u­lar, we don’t have ev­i­dence around the im­pact of tech­nol­ogy on very young chil­dren, in­clud­ing tod­dlers, and how to help par­ents sup­port their chil­dren.

“We’ve got par­ents and kids be­ing sep­a­rated by tech­nol­ogy and they are get­ting an­gry with each other.

“That’s not good for their re­la­tion­ship in the long term so we need to give par­ents and kids ways to har­monise their re­la­tion­ship.”

Health Min­is­ter Roger Cook will to­day an­nounce the Telethon Kids In­sti­tute will re­ceive $764,776 in Health­way grants to help erad­i­cate bul­ly­ing on­line and at school. Mr Cook said cy­ber safety was a grow­ing con­cern for par­ents, teach­ers and chil­dren.

Pro­fes­sor Cross said the Cy­ber Friendly Pri­mary Schools project would help “mod­ify” ex­ist­ing de­vice use guide­lines es­tab­lished by the eSafety Com­mis­sioner and “em­power” par­ents with the con­fi­dence to es­tab­lish firm but rea­son­able rules for chil­dren.

“Par­ents are try­ing their hard­est but just don’t have the skills,” she said.

“This new re­search is about giv­ing them those skills and the right tools so we can max­imise ben­e­fits from chil­dren us­ing tech­nol­ogy while min­imis­ing harm.”

Pro­fes­sor Cross said chil­dren aged nine or 10 were bul­lied or bul­lied oth­ers more than at any other time in their life. This cor­re­sponded with a grow­ing num­ber of schools in­sist­ing stu­dents from Year 4 have an iPad.

Over­all, about one in ev­ery six stu­dents aged 7-17 were bul­lied at least once a week.

Dr Jac­inta Fran­cis will lead the TKI’s Build­ing Out Bul­ly­ing project, in part­ner­ship with the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. She will in­ves­ti­gate how school grounds, in­clud­ing build­ings and play­grounds, con­trib­ute to bul­ly­ing, re­la­tion­ships and men­tal health.

Dr Fran­cis said a check­list would help schools as­sess their grounds and de­ter­mine where they could make im­prove­ments to limit ar­eas where bul­ly­ing oc­curs.

“We are aware there are cer­tain hotspots where bul­ly­ing oc­curs more fre­quently and the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion is al­ready mind­ful of de­sign­ing new schools and re­fur­bish­ing old schools to pre­vent bul­ly­ing be­hav­iour,” she said.

“But very few stud­ies have in­ves­ti­gated how the school-built en­vi­ron­ment im­pacts bul­ly­ing be­hav­iour and also the for­ma­tion of those more sup­port­ive re­la­tion­ships be­tween stu­dents.”

She said bul­ly­ing “hotspots” in schools in­cluded play­grounds, toi­let blocks, hall­ways and locker ar­eas.

“This doesn’t mean an end to things like cubby houses but we have to be smarter about how we de­sign some of these ar­eas,” Dr Fran­cis said.

“It’s im­por­tant schools con­tain spa­ces that pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren to en­gage so­cially and de­velop re­la­tion­ships that can be a bit more sup­port­ive and buf­fer against men­tal health prob­lems.”

Pic­ture: Justin Ben­son-Cooper

Here to help: Pro­fes­sor Donna Cross and Dr Jac­inta Fran­cis of The Telethon Kids In­sti­tute with stu­dents Meg Ire­land, 11, and Ma­son Forsyth, 14.

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