Parents need a one-stop-shop for screen information

February 6, 2023

Dr Catherine Page Jeffery

Lecturer in Media and Communications

Department of Media and Communications | Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

The University of Sydney


Parents need a one-stop-shop for screen information

Children and young people’s engagement with media is a subject rarely out of the spotlight for too long. Digital media such as the internet, social media, and online gaming, have elicited particular concern about the wellbeing of young people. Whether its claims about online paedophiles, device addiction, the purported damaging effects of social media, or children watching ‘inappropriate’ content, the main risks posed by media to young people are by now generally well known. Yet many families still struggle to mitigate media-related harms, and media use has become a major source of conflict and tension within contemporary families. How is it, that despite our collective knowledge of risks and the development of a plethora of online safety advice and resources, many parents still feel concerned and powerless when it comes to their children’s media use?

There is little doubt that the online safety sector in Australia is comprehensive, if not saturated. In addition to the establishment of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner in 2015, other Government bodies such as the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Human Rights Commission, Education departments, and the Australian Parenting Network address online safety issues as part of their respective agendas. State, Catholic, and independent schools have an online safety educative function, as do cultural and community organisations. Additionally, a growing number of not-for-profit organisations are addressing key online safety issues (see for example the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, the Carly Ryan Foundation, and Reach Out). A number of independent commercial operations, providing both technical and educative resources, have also emerged to capitalise on parental anxieties. Across the range of online safety providers, there is differing foci, differing advice, and differing approaches to identifying and managing online risks.

My own research with Australian parents found however that parents are not utilising these resources much, if at all. Parents that I spoke to were generally cognisant of the main risks. They were concerned but level-headed, and realistic and rational about the probability of respective risks affecting their children. Following tips and advice from the media and some online safety resources, parents had attempted to implement rules and restrictions with varying levels of success. Their attempts at mediation frequently resulted in parent child conflict. For the parents that I spoke to, their main concerns were less about the highly publicised and most serious risks such as online predators (indeed a grave concern but statistically unlikely), but more about the day-to-day management of media in the home to mitigate risk while affording their child the associated benefits of digital media.

The parents that I have spoken with as part of my research indicated that they felt overwhelmed by the range of resources and advice about online safety matters. They didn’t want to spend time trawling all the online resources and organisations for the information they needed. Instead, they wanted a ‘one stop shop’ of consistent information and advice and practical resources, that not only address potential media harms, but importantly address the daily challenges of guiding and managing children’s media use to not only mitigate risks, but also to maximise opportunities. Critically, for these resources to resonate with end-users, parents’ and children’s lived experiences and existing knowledges must be taken into account.

There is no doubt that many of the various organisations addressing online safety in Australia are doing important work. But perhaps it’s time to consolidate our collective efforts to reduce duplication, build a critical mass of skills and expertise, and establish a one-stop-shop of consistent and practical advice and resources that will actually be valued and utilised by contemporary Australian families.

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