• Technology separating families Screen use exposing two-year-olds to bullying $760,000 funding injection
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.”
Here to help: Professor Donna Cross and Dr Jacinta Francis of The Telethon Kids Institute with students Meg Ireland, 11, and Mason Forsyth, 14.