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Banning digital devices in schools will not rub out the risk of online abuse and cyberbullying, the Australian eSafety commissioner says.

Julie Inman Grant leads Australia’s eSafety Commission. In this role, Julie leads the world’s first government agency committed to keeping its citizens safer online.  She considers it important schools and parents work with a consistent message, having the difficult age-appropriate conversations with school-aged children, and having them regularly.

“Whether you’re bringing your own device to school or devices are prepared, what we need to be setting down is school policies [on] acceptable use,” she said recently.

The eSafety Commissioner acknowledges it gets more difficult for the school to influence what children and young people are doing when outside of school, be that on a mobile device or at home on Fortnite or TikTok. Cyber bullying and image-based abuse are peer-to-peer abuses, and what occurs out of school spills over into the school day. It is a fair question to then ask if that is a school’s responsibility?

Inman Grant goes on to say, “It’s fraught, it’s challenging. But in my view, just banning devices is not going to get rid of the problems.”

The technology amplifies human behaviour, broadcasting it to a potentially vast audience. The root cause is best dealt with by teaching the values and associated soft skills to exhibit care and empathy, respect, resilience and responsibility at the same time as instructing students on the positive uses of digital technologies.  PowerPoint or internet use.

Parents need to be front and centre as many students, while not involved in cyber-bullying or other peer-to-peer abuse, do publish online material about themselves that can be damaging. School age children spend far more time out of school than in school. Many cyber issues emanate from the hours out of school. Ms Inman Grant said eSafety education must be more than conversations held at school.

The eSafety Commission has a range of resources for parents, which will allow them to hold the critical but difficult conversations with their children regularly and in age appropriate ways. Go to: https://www.esafety.gov.au/parents

This includes advice for the hard-to-have conversations with children under 5 years of age, through to young adults and lists The Big Issues as well as guidance on Are they old enough?  and privacy issues.

The eSafety Commission will also allow for you to report complaints about cyber issues involving children and young people under 18 years of age.

The eSafety Commission is a wonderful resources available to us all. The world our children grow up in is full of wonderful opportunities that did not exist when I was young. It also has some pitfalls that also did not exist. The resources available to you as parents allow your children to avoid those pitfalls if you lead the way with them at home.

Allan Shaw

Allan Shaw is Principal and Chief Executive of The Knox School

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