Safer on Screen
Australian teenagers are getting better at dealing with negative experiences online, however, they are still at significant risk of being contacted by a stranger or being sent unwanted disturbing images.
A report released today by the Australian eSafety Commissioner reveals that in the six months to September 2020:
- Just over four in 10 teenagers had at least one negative online experience.
- Three in 10 experienced unwanted contact from a stranger.
- Two in 10 teenagers reported being sent unwanted inappropriate content, such as pornography or violent content.
The Commissioner says, “The pleasing news is that, compared to 2017 research, more teens appear to be taking some form of action after a negative online experience. That could mean managing it themselves, such as blocking the person or reporting the issue. However, a large percentage of teens still ignore potentially harmful online experiences or believe nothing will change if they seek help.”
Discussions about e-safety need to be consistent and on-going. However, what conversations should parents be having with their kids? We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here are some suggestions:
1. Open and continual communication with teenagers is important in cyber safety, just as it is with every social issue facing children. Listen to your children and accept that everything you hear will not be to your liking. Your reactions will determine how honest your child feels they can be. You don’t have to approve of everything they say, but they need to feel comfortable saying it.
2. Explain to your children that the Internet is not secure and that ultimately nobody can guarantee their images won’t be accessed, no matter what your privacy settings are. As we’ve learned, even unpublished photos on your device and backed up to the cloud can be hacked.
3. Keep explaining that there are people out there who do not have his/her best interests at heart. Early adolescents have a disconnect here. They hear you say that people might be watching them or want to take advantage of them, but deep down they don’t understand it. Unfortunately, they may be more afraid of you or a teacher seeing their images than a pedophile or stalker.
4. Many young adolescents will be comfortable with you following their Instagram account or friending them on Facebook. However, that may change as they get older. If you follow their account they may decide to simply open another. Perhaps enlist the help of another adult they like and trust to help guide them, perhaps an older sibling, cousin or friend
5. Know what social media sites your child is on and how they work. Use social media yourself. It is the best way to know how it is used, positively and negatively. Some of the more popular sites are TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Facebook. There are also a number of messaging sites that kids use to send photos, film and text. The most popular of these are Messenger and Whatsapp, and Telegram is emerging quickly. Another one to look out for is Clubhouse, an audio-only chat app.
6. Sit with your child and ask them to Google themselves. Together you can talk about the results and what needs to be deleted. It might be worth Googling yourself too.
7. Talk to your child about thinking very carefully about what they post. This will need to be an on-going conversation. A slow drip approach will show your child how important you take their on-line activity.
8. Ask them to check that Location Services for all sites are turned off. If they are left on it is quite easy to track or locate a user. At school students will have had a number of demonstrations of what sort of information can be gleaned from social media posts.
9. Don’t rely on restrictive parental software. All a child needs to do is type in ‘workaround’ and the name of the software and they will able to avoid your software. Communication with your child and making sure they don’t use the Internet in private is a better solution. It requires more parenting but it’s more effective.
10. If you feel you must, investigate methods to access the browsing history of your home Internet. A quick Google of your router model and how to gain admin access will let you see browsing history, block sites and increase security. Alternatively, you can contact your Internet service provider for help. With a little bit of technical investigation, you can more effectively guide your child’s online activity. Remember, communication about this sort of action is important in building and maintaining trust.