Over the weekend there was considerable press coverage of cybersafety issues for young people. The Weekend Australian’s front page led with the headline Click bait: kids at risk as sexualised behaviour becomes the ‘new normal’, with follow-up further in the newspaper.
The catalyst for this commentary was a highly inappropriate ‘selfie’ by a 13 year old girl posted to Instagram. While the catalyst for the media ‘rush’ was an awful thing for a 13 year old girl to be associated with, we need to stop and consider the day-to-day reality that our children face.
Our collective knowledge of the cognitive development of the child and teenage brain suggests strongly that many children and teenagers, particularly younger teenagers have yet to benefit from the development of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain determines executive function, our ability to make sensible decisions and be able to say ‘No’. Given this development is yet to occur in many young teenagers, we, as adults need to be careful about the support we provide young people to keep them from potentially harmful aspects of our community, especially our digital online world.
The National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, describes the trend of ‘selfies’ and ‘sexting’ on social media as ‘scary’. ‘Younger and younger kids are being exposed to very adult themes on music videos, film clips and YouTube’. ‘It is all too much for little brains’ she says reflecting our understanding of cognitive development (though the use of the term ‘little brains’ is perhaps unfortunate. Physical brain size does not change much after infancy, it is the development and capacity that changes.).
Michael Carr-Gregg, a Melbourne psychologist and managing director of the federally funded Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, lists numerous cases of young children taking, sending and receiving naked images of themselves. This could be illegal under the criminal code as such images can be defined as child pornography.
Susan McLean, a federal government cybersafety advisor comments, ‘There is overt and covert pressure on children to behave in a sexualised way. This shouldn’t be the new normal…’
The Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry has expressed concern over the impact of pornography and cyberbullying on children’s mental health. Dr Michelle Fryer, Chair of the Queensland division of the college’s Child and Adolescent Division commented that kids’ and teenagers’ brain development gave them little or no concept of the long-term consequences of their actions and so parents need to guard access. Dr Fryer urges parents to control kids’ access to the internet and social media and to discuss with their children that it is ‘not OK’ to take inappropriate photographs of their bodies.
Michael Carr-Gregg agreed that online pornography was skewing the way teenagers view sex, love and intimacy. It is a terrible distortion of one of the most precious parts of their lives, the development of love and intimacy. He went on to comment that kids’ access to pornography is a parenting issue. The ramifications of the inappropriate use of digital devices hurts the sender and the receiver, flows through a student’s peer groups, their families and classmates. As teachers we deal with these social upheavals and hurt as they flow into the school.
Carr-Gregg suggests that internet filters must be set at home, that parents should track their children’s internet use on their mobile devices through tracking apps, keep internet access in public places in the home and discuss online safety with them. His final comment was ‘teaching kids to stay safe, smart and responsible on Instagram is as important as teaching them to cross the road’.
Significant resources are available to parents, extended family and teachers. Tracking apps for mobile devices and filters for internet access at home exist. The following websites provide commentary, resources and advice to assist parents in addressing these matters.
Here at School, all devices logged onto our network are tracked and logs of usage are able to be accessed by appropriate staff. (It should also be noted that where a student uses the 3G or 4G network whilst at School, we cannot track usage.)
All the adults, be they staff at School, parents of your children’s friends, extended family or most importantly, you as parents, are interested in the lives of our young people and their success. We are a positive and supportive community. Challenges in raising children always arise but with mutual support and assistance we can manage this challenge.