Australian children’s emotional wellbeing, screen time and lack of socialisation rank as major concerns for principals and parents, a new study shows.
Camp Australia’s third annual ‘Australia Child Impact Survey’ found 24% of parents reported their child’s emotional patterns worsened in 2022, with children more easily overwhelmed and more sensitive, despite the end of lockdowns. This was supported by 62% of school leaders.
Excessive Internet use was also a big concern, with 42% of parents reporting too much unproductive screen time as one of their main concerns for children. One third of parents reported unproductive screen time has worsened over the past twelve months.
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.
Against this backdrop, Camp Australia welcomed the new Online Safety Bill and the Government's initiative via the eSafety Commissioner to launch its eSafety Early Years program and eSafe kids program for children and parents.
Children having friends and socialising was another top concern for parents (36%) and school leaders (26%).
‘We’re seeing these issues impact very young children’
Dr Justin Coulson, one of Australia’s most trusted parenting author and experts, said the research highlights the importance of supporting children’s resilience so they can deal with challenging times.
“Despite the survey being conducted in December, well after the end of lockdowns in Australia, the results suggest there may be lingering negative effects of the pandemic on children,” Dr Coulson said.
“Most of these concerns relate to children in Foundation/Prep and Grades One and Two, so we’re seeing these issues impact very young children.”
Dr Coulson said when children have too much unproductive screen time or avoid making new friends, they can be at increased risk of mental ill-health including experiencing social difficulties, poor academic results and even developing physical health concerns.
“While we can’t entirely avoid the use of screens in our work and study lives, we need to be aware children are growing up with new ways of working where technology is universal,” he said.
“This is all the more reason to develop a healthy relationship with technology and socialising offline as early as possible to counteract these impacts and become more resilient in the long term.”
Excessive screen time hurting social connections
Warren Jacobson, CEO of Camp Australia, said the research continues to play an important role in helping families and educators understand and address critical aspects of children’s long-term development.
“It’s no coincidence a sense of disconnection and isolation continues to impact our children, and this research helps illustrate exactly what parents and school leaders are wanting to address going into the 2023 school year,” Jacobson said.
“We know socialisation skills are critical for all aspects of a child’s growth, but these insights reveal excessive time in front of screens continues, and children are more erratic and feel less connected despite the end of lockdowns.”
Jacobson said whilst concern was expressed regarding unproductive screen time, the survey outcomes also raise the issue of e-safety and the influence of social media on children and whether they are educated to deal with this.
“Providing opportunities for social interaction outside the structure of learning in the classroom is one of the ways we can help address these concerns,” he said.
“Activities before and after the school day where children can socialise across age and cultural boundaries and pursue other interests actively such as sport, cooking, drama, arts and crafts in a structured environment, all play a critical role in providing a sense of normalcy, promoting social development and an alternative to screen time.”