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The popularity of digital and online games is rapidly increasing, and it doesn't look like slowing down! Not only are more people playing games, but they’re also watching other people play through live streaming and esport tournaments. 

Many parents and teachers are concerned by the fervour surrounding games like Fortnite and the increasing use of games among primary school students. But no matter how you feel about gaming, there's one thing you can be sure of: gaming is here to stay.

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We need to have more conversations with young people about mental health.

In the 2017 Mission Australia Youth Survey Report, mental health was rated by young people as the most important issue affecting Australia today [1]. While the majority of young people reported feeling optimistic about the future, they also saw mental health as one of the major barriers to achieving their work and study goals. 

Issues like anxiety, depression and substance misuse can have a devastating effect on individuals and communities, and if not addressed early, can impact on a young person’s ability to work, socialise and function throughout their life. 

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Humans are hard-wired to pay attention to the negative. This ‘negativity bias’ is an ancient survival tool that helps us remain vigilant and respond to threats in our environment. Parents, caregivers and teachers will know this bias all too well, often finding themselves honing in on children’s shortcomings and pointing out the behaviours they need to change. This is a normal human response – we do it because we want children to stay safe and do well in the world!

But in the process we can forget to acknowledge their strengths. 

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As teachers we often get stuck. The busyness of teaching, the marking, administration and preparation can often leave you feeling as if your creativity has run dry and you are at a loss for a new, engaging way to teach a concept. I have found this especially to be the case when I have had to develop lessons about ‘big’ issues such as bullying, choices, healthy relationships and cyber safety. These are conceptual, sometimes abstract, life topics; topics very different to the more concrete maths and sciences. So I'm always looking for innovative and creative ways to teach these topics, and practical resources to support this. 

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Our privacy is valuable. And now, more than ever, we need to protect it.

As a society, we are beginning to understand the consequences of sharing our personal information online. We are becoming increasingly concerned with how our data is being used and misused.

Advances in technology present new risks to our privacy and security. Spam, scams, identity theft and fraud are just some of the risks we face when we use our devices.

Privacy Awareness Week runs from the 13th to the 19th of May this year. It provides an opportunity to reflect on how we share and manage our personal data. The aim is to shine a spotlight on the issue of privacy, and to remind us that privacy does matter.

With this awareness has come growing concern for the privacy of children and young people online. So how do we keep them safe?

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Something happens when we go to school. Yes, we learn to read, we learn to write, to count, we learn about history, geography, languages, how our world works - all wondrous, valuable things. 

We also learn, very quickly, that learning is measured and should be tested, constantly. We learn that data drives schools and policies, and that one’s worth is often tied up in those final results. And in that, we lose our sense of play, of discovery, of creativity. Ken Robinson, in his seminal Ted Talk Do Schools Kill Creativity?, argues that our schooling systems are "educating people out of their creative capacities" and that we are not only growing out of our creativity, but "we get educated out of it’".  

Alongside this, schools are becoming increasingly aware of the need to nurture and implement wellbeing programs that foster agency, resilience and self-management strategies. When children are a part of a system, however, how can we do this?

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Friday the 16th of March is 2018 National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. This is a day for school communities to take a stand together, and demonstrate their commitment to creating a safe and supportive environment for all students. 

The Australian government is getting behind this initiative, in response to growing concern about the devastating impact of bullying on children and teens. This week Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham wrote a letter to every principal in the country, urging them to join the national effort against bullying and violence in schools. 

And the spotlight isn't only on schools - in recent weeks attention has been turned towards abuse and harassment occurring within Australian universities. 

It is clear that bullying is now on the national agenda.

So where do we go from here?

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On 6th February 2018 Brainstorm Productions celebrated Safer Internet Day, a worldwide event that is coordinated by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner in Australia. 

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Transitions are a normal part of development, and will be experienced by all children at some point in their lives. Some transitions are planned, others are sudden and unexpected. And as we head into the new school year, most kids will be preparing for some kind of transition, whether that be the start of kindergarten, the transition to high school, adjustment to a new year level, or the move to a new school.

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Summer holidays are kicking off around Australia, which means students will have more free time to play and have fun in the sun. 

But school holidays can be a difficult time for some kids. Changes to routine and being away from their usual school supports can cause them to feel stressed, down or lonely. Holidays can be a particularly vulnerable time for students whose families are struggling with grief, loss, poverty or family violence.

School holidays also mean more time spent online.

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Year 12 exams are nearly over, which means school leavers are letting their hair down and starting to celebrate. Schoolies events are on the radar of parents and teachers, and Year 11 students may be starting to plan their own celebrations for next year. Preparation is key, so it's a good time to start having conversations about the good, the bad and the ugly of the Australian Schoolies ritual.

Schoolies events are viewed by many as a rite of passage for adolescents, marking their transition into adulthood, greater independence, and a highly-anticipated life after twelve years of schooling. The event is seen as an opportunity to unwind after exams, have fun with friends, build new relationships, and create shared memories [1]. Research also shows, however, that excessive alcohol consumption is considered by many adolescents to be an integral part of the Schoolies experience [1, 2]. 

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In recent years we've seen greater acceptance and communication around the topic of mental health. We've also seen a growing number of initiatives aimed at reducing stigma and increasing support for people who are struggling with mental health issues.

During the month of October, communities across NSW will come together and hold events to celebrate Mental Health Month, which coincides with World Mental Health Day on the 10th of October. This year the focus is on sharing the journey: promoting positive social connections to help people cope with mental health issues, build resilience, and improve their wellbeing.

Bullying, and in particular cyberbullying, can have a serious impact on the mental health of children and adolescents. Students involved in cyberbullying have poorer mental wellbeing [1], and higher levels of anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, and substance abuse [2]. 

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Social support is central to our psychological and physical wellbeing, and can buffer against the effects of stress and illness [1]. When families, friends and communities reach out and offer support, it can have a profound impact on the lives of vulnerable people, including children and adolescents. A simple and effective way to offer that support to the people in your world is by asking, "are you OK?"

Thursday 14 September 2017 is R U OK? Day, a day which reminds us all that we have got what it takes to ask, "are you OK?", and support those struggling with life.

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Today’s high school students have grown up using smartphones and iPads, and most have had a digital footprint since birth.

In 2015, eighty-two per cent of teens were online, according to ACMA research, and 80 per cent used a smartphone. These figures rise every year. 

...

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A recent survey of 20,000 Australian school children found that one in four students have experienced bullying. Bullying is when people use words or actions to repeatedly, and intentionally harm another person and is often conducted by someone who has more power or influence than the victim. The bullying cycle perpetually disempowers the victim, who feels increasingly helpless.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics CensusAtSchool survey, longitudinal studies have consistently found strong links between school bullying and mental health problems, with victims at risk of developing depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. Similarly, perpetrators of bullying are also at risk of developing depression, anti-social personality and substance use disorders[1].  

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This month, Brainstorm Productions were thrilled to be part of EduTECH Australia, an international conference and expo, which brings educational providers together to discuss, inspire and exchange ideas.  Attendees at EduTECH shared the latest in digital technology, e-learning, robotics, and virtual realities for an education environment.  There are exciting changes on the horizon, as the world of possibility opens up with ease of learning, access to new information and advance in IQ and skills.

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Loneliness is real and it affects people right across the country – in  fact a 2016 Lifeline survey found 60% of Australians often feel lonely. While loneliness for some is related to physical distance from people they can relate to, for many it’s the fact that they’re surrounded by people but feel a lack of connection and social support. The good news is there are ways of keeping loneliness and social isolation at bay for ourselves and others in our community. 

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Brainstorm Productions’ travelling theatre groups for schools have been captivating hundreds of thousands of children across Australia for thirty years. Here’s why. 

“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play,” says Philip Pullman, children’s author and winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

Picture books, and later, fiction form the bedrock of our childhood. Many of us not only remember the exact picture from a favourite book we read before bed as a child, we remember the thoughts and emotions we experienced at that time. Picking up the book years later is like looking into a crystal ball, and being sucked back into our past. It’s a direct link to who we were as kids.

Likewise, we hear a song on the radio we haven’t listened to since childhood, and we can recall every word, and can anticipate the next note. 

Theatre is the ultimate immersive art form, targeting every sense simultaneously. It makes complete sense then that the only memory I have of the Year Two split classroom is sitting in the audience at Ross Hill Public School, in Inverell, watching Brainstorm Productions’ H-Team. My memory typically isn’t that great, yet I remember the buttery colour of the room. Where I was sitting in relation to the rest of the kids. Where the teachers stood. The bright colours the actors wore. The words they spoke. The tunes they sang. How I felt at the time. Just as you recall key details about the absolutely best Christmas you ever had as a kid, Brainstorm’s primary school productions leave a strong imprint on your memory.

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On Friday 17th March, Brainstorm Productions will be working with schools across the nation to encourage all students to ‘take a stand together' against bullying and violence. 

Brainstorm Productions is proud to join forces with Bullying No Way and the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner to promote zero tolerance to bullying. We give students who are struggling with feelings of anxiety and fear strategies to deal with face to face and online bullying and the courage to speak up and seek help. Research has also identified the significant negative impacts on those who bully and those who witness bullying. We use theatre to show the perpetrators the consequences of their behaviour and give them skills to change their negative habits into positive behaviours. 

With Brainstorm Productions shows sold out well in advance for the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence on Friday 17th March, many schools are running events leading up to the day or afterwards, so they can include theatre as part of their school‘s activities. Why? Read teacher testimonials by clicking here and discover why 99.7% of teachers would recommend Brainstorm Productions.

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