Shelley resident wins Churchill Fellowship to study kids’ internet habits

Donna Cross is being sponsored by the Churchill Fellowship. Picture: Matt Jelonek        d462928
Donna Cross is being sponsored by the Churchill Fellowship. Picture: Matt Jelonek        d462928

IN a world where there is an app for just about anything and more than 13.3 million internet subscriptions in Australia alone, it is not surprising that by the age of eight, 80 per cent of Australian children have accessed the internet.

The question, according to one Shelley researcher, is what to do about the risks.

Donna Cross has won a prestigious Churchill Fellowship to try to answer that – by researching online behaviours of up to 10 year olds.

Dr Cross, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at UWA, has been awarded a sponsored Churchill Fellowship to investigate the risks of internet use for infants and children.

She will fly to America for six weeks to consult experts on the behaviour of children in online environments, to inform the first evidence-based guideline on age-appropriate online behaviour.

“Our research began with a focus on online bullying but now issues like digital privacy and discouraging harmful image sharing like sexting are significant emerging concerns,” Dr Cross said.

“While 80 per cent of Australian children have used the internet by age eight, their technology skills significantly surpass their limited social and emotional development and decision making.”

Dr Cross’ fellowship will take her to various regions of the US including Los Angeles, the South Midwestern region, the North Midwestern region and the East Coast for six weeks.

“The Churchill Fellowship offers me an invaluable opportunity to learn from my overseas colleagues and enhance collective understanding of this potential disruption to children’s development,” she said.

Dr Cross is one of 106 Australians who will be stamping their passports in all corners of the globe, to bring back knowledge that will help Australian communities.

The Churchill Trust awarded Fellowships with a total worth of $2.7 million for travel for up to eight weeks.