Time for kids to unplug from digital devices

September 19, 2016

OUR  hyper-wired children have the world at their fingertips — but the information overload risks crowding their heads, educators and mental health experts have warned.

One of the nation’s leading mental health services for schools says the saturation of online games, information and social media was resulting in young children suffering “FOMO” — the “fear of missing out”.

The Principals Australia Institute, which delivers the mental health program KidsMatters and MindMatters to schools, has urged parents to let children understand “it’s OK not to know”.

The pressure on children to be connected was leaving them with anxiety when they were not connected, said Victoria Ninnes, a mental health worker and senior project officer with the institute.

Mount Carmel principal Susan Ryan is wading through the hot topic of cyber bullying and how it affects school communities. Picture: KIM EISZELE

She urged parents to help children and young people find connection in other ways:

NATURE-BASED play and activities, which encourages switching off and mindfulness.

SPORT and exercise.

FACE-TO-FACE communication with family and fiends.

DEVELOPING hobbies that are not reliant on devices.

Ms Ninnes said encouraging children to be outdoors was great for physical and mental health — although taking their screens with them was not.

The reality game Pokemon GO was not a true experience of being connected with the real world.

The challenge was to direct focus away from screens and back to real faces and experiences. The constant nature of social media has also raised concerns about the persistence and pervasiveness of cyber bullying.

“Social media has become a huge trigger point that has increased anxiety and depression. It has seen bullying become easier,” Ms Ninnes said.

Almost one in seven (13.9 per cent) of Australia’s 4-17 year olds were assessed as having a mental health disorder in the 12 months leading up to a Commonwealth Government report released last year. Anxiety disorders accounted for half of mental disorders.

Hobart school principal Susan Ryan said digital technologies had opened up a wealth of social and learning opportunities for children but the constant connection had also seen a rise in anxiety.

Help is at hand

Key national 24/7 crisis support services include:

• Lifeline 13 11 14; lifeline.org.au

• Suicide Call Back Service; 1300 659 467; suicidecall backservice.org.au

• MensLine Australia 1300 789 978; mensline. org.au

• beyondblue 1300 224 636; beyondblue.org.au

• conversationsmatter. com.au

Key national youth support services include:

• Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; kidshelp.com.au

• headspace 1800 650 890 www.headspace.org.au

• The “Can We talk” campaign also is working with Mindframe; mindframe-media.info

Ms Ryan is completing a PhD on cyber bullying in secondary schools and how it affects school communities, including bystanders and staff.

Social media meant the bullying could now go on around the clock — as it allowed perpetrators to keep contacting victims outside of school gates and hours.

Unlike verbal or face-to-face bullying, cyber bullying could also be spread to an unknown number of recipients and have an online permanence even after the initial image or message was deleted.

Reported rates of cyber bullying among young people varied from 10 to 40 per cent, but the variation was largely due to a lack of a clear and universal definition of what was meant by cyber bullying

Ms Ryan said traditional bullying was any “repeated, intentional behaviour that involves an imbalance of power and ­violated another person’s right to feel safe and protected”.

But, in the case of cyber bullying, Ms Ryan said repetition was not necessarily a criteria because a single instance could have deep penetration and permanence in cyberspace.

“One harmful post can really be magnified. The victim doesn’t know how far and wide it has been distributed — even if it’s deleted,” she said.

However, despite the downsides, Ms Ryan said there was no going back with social media, as it was the dominant avenue for socialising among young people.

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