Keeping children safe online

It’s not easy being a parent these days. Not only are kids maturing physically, but the internet is exposing them to images and other content many parents didn’t see or even know existed until they were adults. This is particularly so with pornography and violent images from assault, accidents or war.

It’s not easy being a parent these days. Not only are kids physically maturing faster, but the internet is exposing them to images and other content many parents didn’t see, or even know existed, until they were adults. This is particularly so with pornography and violent images from assault, accidents or war.

There’s also new forms of bullying appearing in the world of instant access via hand-held devices. Kids post an image on a social media account such as Instagram, putting an emotional “value” on the number of likes and comments posted about the image. If the image doesn’t get many likes, the child who posted the image may then be bullied in the playground as a result. They can be abused verbally or even physically, as the image is regarded as a reflection of their personality, which makes them fair game.

Rosalie O’Neale is a senior advisor with the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Cybersmart Outreach division. In an interview with Kids Matter  she discussed some of the problems of the internet, particularly for families, and also offered tips to help.

Rosalia says; “For most kids, the experience of being online is a good one. However, our research shows around one fifth of eight to 13-year-old children reported seeing or experiencing something on the internet in the past year that bothered them. Also, we saw a slight rise in the number of children aged eight to nine years reporting that they had been cyberbullied (up from one percent in 2009 to four percent in 2012). Around 10 percent of 10 to 11-year-olds and 17 percent of 12 to 13-year-olds also reported that they had been cyberbullied.”

“The clear message from our research, and also from speaking with parents right across Australia, is that parents are active in keeping their kids safe online, and are always keen to learn more to help them in this important role.”

However, as any parent will tell you, managing your children becomes harder the older they become, particularly as they reach puberty and their teen years. Parents need to establish strong ground rules governing the internet as early in life as possible. And given there is yet to be a generation of adults who’ve lived with children growing to adulthood using social media, everyone is on a steep learning curve.

The least any parent can do is not allow their children to have social media accounts unless they are connected to the account, so they can observe behaviour — not just of their child but of others in the network.

Here are five steps Rosalia suggest for parents:

  • Talk to your child about staying safe online and keep the discussion open as they grow up.
  • Monitor your child’s time online, particularly younger children.
  • Set house rules –- what’s okay to do and what’s not, how much time is spent online, and what kind of personal information is okay to make public.
  • Consider using filters or other technological tools to help limit exposure to potentially harmful or distressing material.
  • Model the kind of positive online behaviour you would like your children to use.

The Federal Government has established a website for parents where they can learn, ask questions and report inappropriate behaviour. You can reach it here.