Following on from my Responsible Use of ICT article on 29 August and continuing the technology theme, the amount of screen time children have is often reported in the media and we all know the amount of time is increasing. This is also a reality at school and in our own homes. I consider myself in the heartland of device use at home with my own children who are in Year 3, 7 and 8. How many times have you recently said:
“Get off your iPad?”
“Put your phone away?”
“Put that device on charge?”
The commonplaceness of digital technologies in young people's everyday lives nonetheless causes concern for educators and parents. This is an understandable concern given increasing media and policy debate on the topic, and a lack of evidence-based research or strategies. Teachers and parents are questioning the effect that technology can have on students' mental health and wellbeing, now more than ever, as social media has its positives and negatives.
The amount of time that students are spending in front of screens has undoubtedly increased in the past decade. Long gone are the days where students would write essays by hand or gather research materials from hardcover books. More and more, students now have access to devices like personal computers, mobile phones and tablets in the classroom as well as at home. While these technologies have tremendous benefits for students' learning and social development, they have also presented new challenges for our teachers and schools in general.
Yet, this increased interconnectedness in the online world has meant that schoolyard comments and bullying behaviours no longer stop when the home bell rings. The bullying now takes place online, after hours. According to Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Grant, one in five children have experienced some form of cyberbullying (Karp, 2018).
Cyberbullying, unlike traditional bullying, can be far more invasive and complex. It can range from text messages, humiliation, exclusion, imitation, and nasty gossip and untrue stories. There is no doubt that bullying of this nature may have an impact on the self-esteem and mental health of young people.
Some governments across Australia have recognised these risks. For example, the Victorian Government announced that from Term 1 2020, students will be banned from using their mobile phones during school hours. The Government hopes that the ban will not only curb cyberbullying, but that it will remove a major distraction from classrooms, so that teachers can teach, and students can learn in a more focused, positive and supported environment. Western Australia has been the most recent state to follow and announce phone bans for all state schools. Currently, 89% of Australian students admit to using the smartphones in the classroom. However, research shows that student learning outcomes improve when the devices are removed from classrooms. Individual schools are allowed to set their own mobile phone guidelines. At A.B. Paterson College our policy on mobile phones is very clear and consistently enforced across the College. Lesson time across the College is dedicated to educating our students on the responsible use of technologies, the dangers, the pitfalls and how to remain safe.
As teachers and parents, we are in a position to ensure our students and children learn how to use digital technologies responsibly, so as to support their overall wellbeing. The very big question is how?
Linking back to my previous article on responsible use of ICT there are a number of practical strategies which can be implemented with immediate results to keep children safe and it is important to remind them regularly:
Technology is an inevitable part of our modern lives. We cannot protect our young people from all the pitfalls of technology 24/7, but we can work hard to make sure they understand the dangers and know how to remain safe in their connected world.
Head of Junior School