Screen time and online safety are major concerns for carers and educators

The latest Child Impact Survey from Camp Australia has been released, involving more than 5000 families and 130 school leaders. The survey, first launched in 2020 to track the impact of COVID-19, is conducted annually and provides an important snapshot of the mental and physical wellbeing of primary school-aged children across Australia.

This year, the survey found the top three concerns for parents/carers and teachers are children’s emotional stability, screen time and socialisation. 

  • 42% of parents/carers and 1 in 5 school leaders reported too much unproductive screen time as a top concern, followed by making new friends and socialising (36%).
  • Almost one quarter (24%) of parents/carers reported that children have become easily overwhelmed and more sensitive, with 62% of school leaders sharing this concern.
  • When asked about areas school leaders would like to learn more, online safety was the most popular topic (63%). Just over one third of families also share this interest and concern, highlighting that more understanding and education is needed in this critical area.

One of the ways in which the government is addressing these concerns is through the Online Safety Act (passed in January 2022) which gives new powers to the eSafety Commissioner to protect Australians from online harm and bullying. In February, the eSafety Commissioner celebrated Safer Internet Day, an annual global event that brings together communities, families, schools and organisations from more than 200 countries to help create safer online spaces.

Safer Internet Day urges Australians to Connect (keep apps and devices secure and use social media in positive ways), Reflect (take a moment to consider how what we do and say online may affect others), and Protect (tell family, friends or colleagues about eSafety and how we can help).  

At CareSouth, we know that our carers, staff and families share many of the same concerns raised by the Camp Australia survey and the eSafety Commissioner. In a bid to address them, we will continue to share information, tips and insights from our clinicians, caseworkers and experts in the field to support you as you support kids in care.

Dr Justin Coulson, one of Australia’s most influential parenting authors, said the research from Camp Australia highlights the importance of understanding a young person’s connection to the digital world. Dr Coulson believes that if we as parents/carers and support staff are more compassionate and patient with young people around screen time, we will be better equipped to manage and support their exploration of the digital world, which can often be a minefield.

Some tips from Dr Coulson around navigating screen time with children and young people include:

 1. Be a model of healthy screen use

Your example will not be the ultimate factor in determining how children and young people use screens but the more you are on your screen, the more those around you will feel comfortable using theirs. When we use our screens minimally – and in the right context – we become actively involved in life, relationships, activities and family.

2. Understand a child’s brain

Children and young people are driven to:

  • connect with others
  • do hard things and get good at stuff (like online games)
  • want to feel in control of their decisions.

Games and social media facilitate these needs. Playing video games or connecting on social media light up the brain’s reward circuitry because the above three factors are being supported.

3. Know the other factors at play

These could include:

  • Pressure from friends to game and be on social media
  • Curiosity and a desire to be popular
  • Loneliness or boredom
  • A desire to test you and see whether you’ll impose limits
  • School stress
  • Fear of failure
  • Addiction
  • Anger
  • Feeling incomplete
  • A response to family ruptures and breakdown.


4. Working it out together

If screen issues exist, fighting about it won’t help. Force creates resistance. Instead create a conversation based on:

  • Choosing the right time when the pressure is off, food is on hand, and the conversation can flow easily and safely. Driving in the car is a good option because the young person knows your eyes are on the road, not them. 
  • Staying on their side. Let them know you’re not there to force an issue or fight. You just want to understand and work things out for both of you. Trust is essential.
  • Allow them to share what they’re feeling, followed by what you’re observing. Ask them to discuss how using screens makes them feel. Describe what you’re experiencing.