Cybersafety and Healthy Online Behaviour for Children

Following up from a story I did for Channel 7’s Sunrise on the impact of too much screen time on children and families, here is some more information on the issue and practical ways you can minimise the harm on your family.

We are living in a complex time - there has never been a time with so much change and at such a rapid pace. Our lives are technology-saturated and the human brain is simply not designed for this much stimulation or the isolation that comes with it. We’re social beings and technology can’t replace the human connection that we need.

Constant access to social media on our devices is causing issues including:

  • Compare and despair - we compare our lives to the seemingly perfect lives projected across our social channels
  • FOMO (fear of missing out) - we see what everyone else is doing and feel that we’re missing out
  • Addiction - scrolling, liking, watching and waiting for comments is all highly addictive
  • Sleep deprivation - technology use in the evenings makes it harder for us to drop off to sleep and can also reduce the quality of sleep we’re getting

And these issues are having an impact on our mental health. Right now we’re experiencing an anxiety epidemic. One in four young Australians currently have a mental health condition and anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health concerns. Much of this deterioration can be linked to the twin rise of the smartphone and social media. Technology and social media are always on and while there are a lot of benefits to both, they are playing a large part in the growing anxiety epidemic.

Alongside anxiety, behavioural issues are also on the rise and I’m seeing this every day when working with my young patients. One of the key ways to help with behavioural issues is parental attention and connection. Our phones, iPads and laptops can so easily get in the way of our family time. In a recent survey, 6-12-year-olds were asked: “Are your parents ever distracted when you are trying to talk to them?” 62 per cent of children said yes and when asked what distracts their parents, they most frequently mentioned mobile phones. Children crave parental attention and will get it in whatever way they can - if this means playing up to get attention, then they are more likely to play up.

Cyber Bullying is also a big concern. In order to combat this, here are some cyber safety tips I shared on Sunrise:

  • No laptops in bedrooms
  • Talk to your kids about internet use
  • Keep personal information private
  • Create ‘house internet rules’

Technology and social media is part of our lives and it’s not going away. We can however make decisions about how we use devices that demonstrate to our children that we value interaction with them and we value what they have to say. Here are my practical tips:

  • Create device-free times
  • Create device-free times
  • Turn off the TV
  • Use a phone dock away from bedrooms so they go to sleep without electronics
  • Use precious opportunities to connect and strengthen bonds including mealtimes, bedtime is an important time to be present with our kids and when you’re with your kids in the car.

It is also important to role model desired behaviours and that means starting with switching off our devices when we’re with our children so we can switch on to what they’re saying and doing.

The bottom line is it’s about balance - technology is transformative in many positive ways but if it get’s in the way of human connection, particularly in precious catch up moments with our kids, then it is limiting our children’s social and emotional development and making them more susceptible to anxiety, anger and other emotional and behavioural challenges.

Watch the full story on Sunrise now