Keeping kids safe online
Online safety is one of the biggest issues we face in child protection. More than 1 in 4 Australian 11-16 year-olds say they are in communication with people they first met online, unconnected with their offline social networks (Green et al, 2011). This means that children and young people are developing friendships and relationships with people they have never met face to face.
Australian police have seen an increase in reports of “self-produced child exploitation material”. In some instances, children are willingly sharing photos of themselves, including inappropriate or naked pictures on social media.
In other cases, sex offenders are reaching out to children through social media platforms and coercing them into sharing inappropriate or naked pictures of themselves, which is secretly captured and shared in the darkest corners of the internet (Alarming rise in ‘self-produced child abuse material’ sparks online safety warnings, abc.net.au, 2017). With this in mind, it is just as important to talk about online personal safety with your children as it is personal safety in the offline world.
QUICK TIPS FOR PARENTS
- Educate yourself: Check out different sites, games, and apps for yourself. The more familiar you are with them, the easier it is for you to talk to your children. Check privacy settings and recommended age restrictions.
- Talk with your children: have conversations with them about the importance of safety online and show them how to implement this. You can do this without frightening them. For example, let them know that you have been hearing about online safety and ask what they think the risks are and what they do to keep safe.
- Teach your children to think about online behaviour: How much should they be sharing online and what happens to information once posted or shared? Talk about respectful interactions and responsible behaviour, and encourage them to critically think about what they read and see online (remind them that not everything they read may be true, what they share will always be there, and that not everyone is who they say they are online).
- Come up with a plan around safety: Talk about ways to not only stay safe but also how to respond to anything that happens that may concern them. Let them know they can talk to you or another adult they can trust. Encourage them to be proactive about keeping their online space safe and teach them how to report online creeps via Bravehearts’ Join the Dots tool.
This age group is just beginning to learn how computers, phones, and other devices work and the joy they can bring. This includes visiting children’s websites and helping them compose friendly emails to family and friends.
Be sure to sit with your child during this learning stage when they are on a computer or device and choose websites, games, and apps that are suitable for your child’s age group – even games and apps that are designed for young children have features that enable communication with strangers.
Primary school-aged children
Children of this age feel more confident using the internet and may wish to start to use social media. Children may also try to search for prohibited material and notice marketing material, wanting to purchase products online.
Ensure computers and other devices are used in a common area in the home where you can keep on eye on your child, rather than in private (ie their bedroom). Stay within earshot of your child and have a pre-determined plan of action if they stumble across something inappropriate (e.g. turn the device face down and tell a trusted adult).
Similarly, have an agreed-on plan with your child if a stranger tries to communicate with them online and remind your child repeatedly and often of the fact that not everyone is who they say they are online.
Teenagers will want more independence and freedom while using the internet. Their use of social media will grow as will their network of online ‘friends‘. This age group may also try to explore prohibited material. While it is more difficult to keep tight supervision on what teenagers are doing online, it is vital that you stay in touch with them and talk often about safe internet use, the risks and how to avoid them.
On social media, children and young people tend to interact with more confidence than they normally would in a face-to-face situation. This can make them susceptible to cyber-stalkers who can skillfully pretend to be someone they are not.
In this space more than ever, children and young people need to know they should never give out personal information.
As a parent, it is important for you to have current information about the types of social media platforms that children and young people are using. Ensure you are aware of the age-restrictions on these platforms (many have 15+ age restrictions) and understand that the platforms that you are using may be very different from those that your children are using.
For more information on social networking and how to keep your children and young people safe, please see the eSafety Commissioner website.
Children and young people are increasingly interacting online via online gaming platforms. While there may be many positive aspects to online gaming, it’s also important to be aware of some of the risks.
One of the biggest risks in terms of child safety is the potential for interaction with strangers via these games. Networked games involve multiple players (in some cases even hundreds of thousands of players). With these games, your child or young person could be communicating with strangers (including adults) through webcam, private messaging or online chat, increasing the risk of contact from predators (www.esafety.gov.au, 2018).
A study by the eSafety Commissioner (2017) found that when it comes to online gaming, 52% of children played with people they didn’t know. Statistics such as this suggest that it is vital for parents to place safeguards around their children and young people when it comes to online gaming and educate them about interacting safely online.
For the most up-to-date information for parents about online gaming and keeping children and young people safe, please refer to the eSafety Commissioner website.
Reinforce regularly with your kids the following online safety rules:
You should never:
- tell anyone your full name, address, phone number or school
- send a photo of yourself to anyone that you don’t know
- tell anyone your credit card or bank details
- make plans to meet anyone you find online – people you meet online aren’t always who they claim they are
- talk to anyone who is nasty or makes you feel uncomfortable
You should ALWAYS:
- be careful who you talk to online
- ask permission to use online games with chat features
- tell your parents or carer if someone says something to you online that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe
- stay away from websites that are not meant for children
- remember that people are not always who they say they are online
One of the most proactive steps you can take in protecting your child on the Internet is to sit down with them and come up with a family online safety contract. As important as defining rules around online usage, this process also opens up a communication line between you and your child to discuss concerns and unsafe situations.
Rules in the contract may include, for example:
- I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number, parents’ work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents’ permission.
- I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
- I will never agree to get together with someone I “meet” online without first checking with my parents. If my parents agree to the meeting, I will be sure that it is in a public place and bring my mother or father along.
- I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents.
- I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. It is not my fault if I get a message like that. If I do I will tell my parents right away so that they can contact the service provider.
- I will talk with my parents so that we can set up rules for going online. We will decide upon the time of day that I can be online, the length of time I can be online and appropriate areas for me to visit. I will not access other areas or break these rules without their permission.
- I will not give out my password/s to anyone (even my best friends) other than my parents.
- I will check with my parents before downloading or installing software or doing anything that could possibly hurt our computer or jeopardize my family’s privacy.
- I will be a good online citizen and not do anything that hurts other people or is against the law.
Agree as a family on what should be in the contract and make sure your kids sign it. Place the contract somewhere visible in the house as a visual reminder of what they agreed to.
Report inappropriate or illegal online content to:
Bravehearts has an online reporting tool designed specifically for children and young people to report ‘creepy’ online behaviour. Parents are also encouraged to used this tool if they come across anything suspicious. Reports can be made anonymously if the user so wishes. Visit the Join the Dots website.
Suspicious online behaviour can also be reported to the eSafety Commissioner
When a child is in immediate danger of abuse:
Phone: 000 or Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000 or your local police station.
Report suspected cases of child exploitation or contact with paedophiles to:
Other Useful Sites
The eSafety Commissioner provides information on how internet users can protect themselves and their information when using social media networking sites, search engines and online games. Check out this information on the website.
There are some exceptional sites that can help parents and young people learn more about safe internet use:
- The eSafety Commissioner – report cyberbullying material that has been targeted to a child under the age of 18
- Get information about a range of eSafety issues
- Access classroom resources to promote online safety to primary and secondary students
- Visit the parent resource hub for information about eSafety issues and risks their children may be facing
Other helpful links include: