When you bring your new baby home from the hospital for the first time you’re filled with a tumult of emotions – pride, joy, nervousness and an all-encompassing fear of just about everything, from a fly buzzing nearby to a zombie apocalypse.
You are responsible for this tiny human life and that can be a terrifying thought – you’re responsible for at least 18 years and the world is a very different place to the one you grew up in. The biggest change by far is the Internet and the impact it’s had on every aspect of our lives, from consulting Dr Google to finding friends all over the world. Then, of course, there’s the darker side of the Internet and we like to think as adults that we’ve got everything covered, that we can handle it and that by the time our kids start to go online they’ll be old enough to handle it too.
The reality is that children are accessing the Internet at an ever-younger age now and so we need, as parents, to be increasingly vigilant and to be having more in-depth and more frequent talks with our kids so that they’re equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to stay safe in an online world.
What do we need to be concerned about when it comes to children using the Internet?
You probably can’t stop your children from going online and you most likely shouldn’t try to, either, as it’s an essential part of life and education now. However, it’s important to meet the challenges it poses head-on.
Most children have fun online, but a fifth of children aged 8-13 say they’ve seen something disturbing online within the last 12 months, according to research by the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Cybersmart Outreach (ACMA). There’s also been a rise in the number of younger children saying they’ve been cyberbullied. Social media platforms like Snapchat let teens and even younger children share images and other content instantly. Most of the content is harmless, but some of it is worrying and inappropriate.
More personal devices means more privacy
The rise of smartphones and tablets has made it easier for children to get online – and harder for parents to monitor what they’re doing. When most households had one shared computer, parents could keep an eye on the proceedings. Now, however, the average age at which someone gets their first smartphone is 10! Being small and portable, it’s easy for kids to sneak them into bed and to be chatting away or accessing all kinds of content on YouTube and Netflix when you think they’re asleep!
Who are they chatting to?
Most children who go online love to use social media as it’s a great way to keep in touch with their friends and family, as well as to make new friends and share their lives with the world.
Unfortunately, though, some kids are sharing too much with the world and giving away information like their phone numbers, their dates of birth, their school’s name and location and even their home addresses. Children in the 8-11 age group are most likely to do this and this can leave them very vulnerable to fraudsters and even online predators.
Older children, it seems, are more cautious possibly because they’ve had more education at school and at home about how to protect themselves online. The fact is, though, that 11% of children aged 8-9 have their own mobile phone, so who’s teaching them how to stay safe?
How involved should you be in your children’s online world?
Very involved is the succinct answer. Australian parents are very concerned about their children’s safety and happiness while they’re online and they’re certainly very active and engaged when it comes to helping them to stay safe and happy. Most parents are eager to learn more about cyber safety so that they can stay abreast of the latest trends and threats.
Children are going online younger and younger; when children are still of primary school age it’s easier for parents to monitor online activity and step in if necessary. It’s this age group that needs to work most on its online safety as children under 11 years of age are still very trusting and can be easily deceived or persuaded to share information by unscrupulous users.
Parents are still the first port-of-call for children if things get rough
If children are finding something – or someone – difficult online, then you’re the first people they’ll turn to for help. It seems again, though, that it’s the younger age groups that don’t discuss cyber safety so much with parents; teens often bring up issues and topics themselves so they’re more proactive.
What do parents worry about?
ACMA found that parents’ chief concerns included their children accessing inappropriate content online, strangers contacting their children, online predators trying to groom their children and cyberbullying. A particular concern is their children sending inappropriate images to other users which then get into the wrong hands and end up going viral.
How can parents and carers protect their children while they’re online?
The most important thing you can do is to talk to your children as soon as they start to go online, no matter how young your child is.
Once your child is online regularly, maintain a dialogue about keeping their details to themselves, not posting compromising photos of themselves or telling strangers where they go to school or the name of their dog.
It’s also important to get into their world a little. Kids move with the latest fads, so when they come home talking about a new free game they want you to download because literally everyone is on it, spend a few minutes investigating it before you give it the green light. Once they’re up-and-running on it, play along with them for a while to get a feel for the privacy settings and for how you can report problems.
Your quick tips for online safety
Talk to your child about how they can stay safe online and carry on talking – threats come and go so you must stay vigilant.
Monitor your child’s online activity and have set times when they can access the Internet – preferably when you’re on-hand.
Make sure you use a filter to reduce the risk of exposure to distressing, illegal or dangerous content. If you do choose an OVO plan for your children, then use the Family Zone filter app that comes free with it as it protects your children’s smartphones and other devices in and out of the home.
Have a set of house rules, like time limits, age-appropriate content, telling you about anything scary, rude or dodgy and what information they can give out.
Demonstrate good behaviour online yourself. If you’re playing an interactive game then don’t send sweary messages, however jokey, to your friends, don’t divulge all your personal details and always be kind to other users.
OVO are an Australian Telco who focus on pre-paid mobile plans and provide mobile broadband and data services. Their kids ‘small’ and ‘mini’ mobile phone plans are amongst their most popular, and have won awards over the last couple of years.