The Ultimate Parent's Guide To Internet and Online Safety

  • What Is Cyber bullying?
  • Unwanted Contact
  • Online Time Management

One thing we can all definitely agree on is that the internet is truly a wondrous gift to mankind. Once a portal for adults, the internet has now transcended the generations, and is something that children as young as the age of 3 are now using on a daily basis. Flashback 20 years ago, and kids had to find ways to fill their time - playing sports, going to the playground or listening to their favourite bands on that now ancient Discman. Fast forward to today, and children are spending their time online playing games, shopping and talking to their friends. In fact, the youth are more forward and intelligent than they have ever been with the internet exposing them to what is happening around the world.

Whilst all these positives are lending beneficial impact to the lives of the youth, there is also a downside to youngsters spending so much time on the web. The internet, unfortunately, is an environment that is also full of predators, identity thieves, cyberbullies and content that is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 18. Although most kids are confident that they know how to protect themselves online, not many think about the consequences of their online activities. Children these days are sharing personal details about their lives online, making them prime targets for anyone who is lurking the internet and looking to prey on the innocent. This is why schooling your children on the dangers that exist on the internet is absolutely crucial.

Teaching kids how to make informed decisions, how to protect themselves online and how to not fall prey to predators is something that is so very essential in today’s age, and in this article, we will look at how you can go about doing so. With this article, we aim to both educate and prevent harmful online behaviours from even occurring in the first place. Prevention is always key, and that is our ultimate goal at the end of the day. Read on to find out more!

 

What Is Cyber bullying?

Have you ever turned the news on, only to be faced with a story about cyber bullying? Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a problem that is occurring more and more often in today’s technologically advanced world. But wait a second, what exactly is classified as cyber bullying? Cyberbullying behaviour may include sending abusive text messages and emails, hurtful messages/videos/imagery, excluding others online, impersonating someone online, humiliating someone online and spreading nasty online gossip about someone. Essentially, almost every aspect of real-life bullying that can transcend onto the internet is considered cyber bullying.

Although one cannot physically harm someone online, the psychological effects of cyber bullying are real and very serious. Just like real life bullying, children often keep these issues to themselves as they feel embarrassed to be the victim of a nasty bully. Even worse, some children fear that reporting cyber bullying will get their devices confiscated from them, and thus, they choose to keep adults in the dark. This is why it is important for parents to let children know that they can be open about their experiences and feelings with their family.

Always remain calm and supportive should your child report an instance of cyber bullying to you. Young people may also be concerned that parents’ actions will make cyber bullying issues worse, so as an adult, you should always remember to keep a level head and not in any instance, blame your child for falling prey to a cyber bully.

So, what are your options as a parent when you find out that your child has been a victim of cyber bullying? First and foremost, you will want to report the cyberbullying material to the social media service on which the bullying occurred. Most social media services have a reporting area on their website, and it is their responsibility to remove cyber bullying material that has been reported and it is a huge breach of their terms and conditions.

Next, you will want to collect all the details you possibly can of the cyber bullying material. Keep in mind that you might actually even need to do this before you send your report into the social media website. A simple way to collect information is by taking a screenshot of the cyberbullying material. You can then send this information and evidence off to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

Lastly, you will want to block the cyberbully immediately. We recommend that you assist your child in blocking the person who is upsetting them, in order to prevent the bully from furthering their antics whilst offensive material is being removed. Another thing to keep in mind is that should your child show changes in behaviour or mood, it may be advisable to seek professional support through Kids Helpline. The mental health of a child is so very important, and getting help early can prevent a child from going down the wrong path in the future.

 

Social Networking

Social networking describes a vast variety of services such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, World of Warcraft, Twitter, Skype and many other networks that now exist on the world wide web. All of these social networking services allow direct interaction between individuals. On these networks, users can post information about themselves, photos, let people know where they are and play games with each other. In today’s world, social networking forms a huge part of the social identity of many youngsters. However, with anything online, there are certain risks that come with sharing so much online such as not being able to control where a photo or video has been shared, or meeting people in real life who they only otherwise have known online.

As a parent, it is a key responsibility of yours to help your children have positive experiences on social networking websites. You can do this by staying involved in your child’s use of technology. Learn about the privacy settings offered on these networks, as it will help you understand how you can best protect your child. Always remember to read the ‘terms of use’ on social media services and make sure your child understands what is expected of them.

Certain websites such as Club Penguin are created especially for children. However, some of the most popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram require users to be at least 13 years of age. If your child is under the age guidelines, ensure that they are not creating profiles with fake birth dates in order to access the website’s services. It is also helpful to check the age ratings set by app stores too before downloading an app—bearing in mind that these age ratings can sometimes differ from those for websites of the same service.

Advising children to set their accounts to private so that the only people who can view their information are those they trust is also crucial, as is encouraging children to think before they post anything up online. Information and photos posted online can often be rather difficult or sometimes even impossible to completely remove, so always advise your kids to think twice before saying anything online. An inappropriate image posted today may very well have a long term impact on their digital reputation in the future.

Last but not least, remind children to be careful when making new friends online; people may not be who they say they are. They should never arrange to meet an online friend unless a trusted adult or parent is with them. Always remind children to turn their location settings off as well, in a bid to further protect their privacy.

 

Unwanted Contact

Whilst making new friends online is exciting for children, the anonymity offered by the internet can allow these new friends to mask their true identities. Someone who claims to be a 10 year old girl could in fact be a 45-year-old person. This anonymity that exists online means that that sexual solicitation and online grooming can occur to any child at any point in time. In order to prevent this heinous crime from occurring, always encourage kids to share with an adult if there is a threat to their safety.

It is important that you encourage your child to change their profile settings so that their personal details are kept private, and in an unfortunate instance where your child has fallen victim to an online sex predator, always keep the evidence, no matter how upsetting it may be. Keeping the evidence can be highly useful in tracking the person posting unsuitable material. Reports can be made directly to the AFP about abuse or illegal activity online using the online child sex exploitation form. Parents can also click on the Report Abuse button on the ThinkUKnow or Virtual Global Taskforce websites. It is important that you always reassure your child that they have your undying support, and avoid blocking their internet access as the fear of not being about to use the internet may cause a child to not tell you what is going on online.

Another thing to look out for is any changes in your child’s behaviour or mood that are concerning, including increased/decreased sexualised behaviours and/or apparent confidence, clinginess or withdrawal, anxiety or sadness and changed interactions with friends. Explore your concerns with them and, if necessary, seek professional help.

 

Online Time Management

Do you feel like your child seems to spend the entire day online? Does he or she prefer sitting in front of the computer over going out and playing with friends? The number of hours that youngsters spend online can vary significantly. Whilst there is no guideline for the ‘right’ amount of time for children to spend online, if you happen to notice that their online activity appears to impact negatively on their studies, behaviour or well-being, it may be time to discuss expectations and establish time limits.

Whilst this may be a touchy topic that may very well upset your child, always remember that the longer you wait to address the issue, the more difficult it will be for your child to overcome. Thus, if you start to notice an emerging problem arising from excessive use, act on it right away. You can do this by discussing your concerns with your child and monitoring what games, apps and devices they are using. If you want to go one step further, you could even install a program on your child’s device which limits the amount of time an internet connection will be available on said device.

Another thing you could do is to implement family agreements about the amount of time your children can spend online or on certain devices. Do keep in mind that some of the time your children spend online may indeed be related to their education. However, if your child seems particularly anxious or irritable, or you notice them isolating themselves from family and friends, there may be an underlying mental health issue that you will need to tackle with the assistance of a GP or counsellor.

 

Dealing With Inappropriate, Offensive & Illegal Content

Inappropriate, offensive or illegal content may include topics, images or other information that are prohibited in Australia or could be damaging to young people online. Whilst children may not deliberately seek out inappropriate content, they may inadvertently be exposed to it whilst undertaking online searches, or if their friends send it to them. Inappropriate content can be made up of footage of real or simulated violence, criminal activity or accidents, extreme political or religious views or sexually explicit material. Promotion of hatred towards individuals or groups on the basis of race, religion, sexual preference or other social/cultural factors is also illegal. Similarly, promotion of self-harm, suicide, eating disorders and drug use are considered highly inappropriate content that should never reach the eyes of children.

If your child does find themselves exposed to such material, it is important that you encourage them to share their experiences with you. You can also choose to limit their exposure to inappropriate content by supervising their online time where possible. Installing filters, labels and safe zones can also help you reduce their risk of exposure to unsuitable or illegal sites. You should also report inappropriate material to site administrators, or report it on social networking websites. One thing to point out is that it is crucial that you reassure your child that access to the internet will not be denied if they tell you about seeing inappropriate content and that it is in no way their fault.

Safety Measures

There are many ways in which parents can assist their children in exploring the internet safely. The most important step to take would be to put in place online safeguards and parental controls-settings, filters and products that help block certain content so that you are in control of what your children are exposed to online. Parental controls are available for most devices in the form of pre-installed settings that you activate with the touch of a button. Other ways of safeguarding your children would be to set up customisable computer accounts specifically for your children. On these accounts, you can restrict access to downloads, apps and purchasing games. You can even apply router settings that will restrict any access to online content.

If your child is accessing the internet on a mobile phone, download apps or apply settings to the mobile phone that restrict access to browsers, apps, social networking sites, inappropriate material, photo/video sharing sites, streaming, and gaming. One thing to keep note is that no single parental control tool is 100% effective. Certain websites can be encrypted in such a way that they are not recognised by parental controls.

If your child is exceptionally bright and tech-savvy, they may even be able to bypass parental controls. This is why being open with your children about the dangers that lurk online is so important. When children are aware that “bad people” and “bad things” exist on the internet, you will teach them to be responsible for their actions and to be on high alert for anything that may seem suspicious or dubious online. You can also create a “safe space” in your home where both your children and you can use their devices, but be prepared to stick to these boundaries yourself. Learning by example is what children do, so it is up to you to lead the way.

 

Where To Go For Help & Resources

 

1. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner

The Office’s website contains free resources, information and related links to support parents in keeping kids safe online. Resources include practical, action focused advice, videos, games, support, and research-based information.

 

2. Parentline

Parentline provides a counselling, information and referral service for parents that operates seven days a week between the hours of 8am and 10pm.

 

3. Crime Stoppers

Crimestoppers or your local police can assist with concerns about children’s personal safety.

 

4. eHeadspace

eHeadspace is a confidential, free and secure space where youngsters aged 12 to 25 or even their families can chat, email or speak on the phone with a qualified mental health professional.

 

5. School Support

Many of our schools have policies and procedures already in place to help support children online, including how to manage issues such as cyberbullying and other online concerns. The Department of Education policies in each state provide information for students, teachers, parents and the broader community to help raise awareness and counter the inappropriate use of technology. Do contact your child’s school for more information.