Historically, people have rejected change. This is likely an evolutionary byproduct; an innate human scepticism of all things new and alien to us. Yet most of us are well accustomed to tools and technologies, ranging from cooking utensils to weapons and transport, that previous generations would have once feared. In fact, we could scarcely imagine a world without them. With each new invention, mankind has sought to simplify and improve daily functions, which has enabled us to survive some truly volatile terrains.
When the internet first interrupted the status quo, some people had reservations about its place in society. It was and perhaps still is seen by many as a frightening and frivolous novelty. Fast-forward a few decades and, while it can certainly still be both frightening and frivolous, the internet is now an indisputable necessity; a core competency required within most careers. The reason this is so important for modern-day parents to understand is because technology, and the internet in particular, has changed the way that our children learn about the world.
Just as we have done throughout history, we need to teach younger generations how to benefit from what new inventions and technologies have to offer. It’s only after accepting this fact that parents can begin to proactively safeguard their children from the dangers that the digital world can entail. Yet, as with any new tool or device that we equip our children with, ensuring that they can use it safely should be our primary concern.
Fact: Australian kids aged 0-11 are among the youngest first time technology users in the world, with many of them utilising the internet daily.
The process of growing up is essentially guided practice, and many of the insights children gain about themselves and their place in the world are learned through exploring new things on a trial and error basis. Young people are now using the internet as a platform upon which they can explore their identity, values, and even sexuality under the guise of anonymity. This can create a false sense of security, and predispose children to increased risk. Therefore it is incredibly important for parents to assist their children in developing a strong moral compass and the ability to self-regulate from a young age.
Cyber safety is a multi-layered and challenging issue. As a result, trying to implement online safety measures can be a daunting undertaking for most parents. What adds further complexity to the matter is that many of the rules parents enact in order to keep their kids safe online are met with displeasure or can be quickly disobeyed as they are difficult to enforce. Nevertheless, ongoing risk evaluation and timely parental intervention is crucial in managing the increasingly common cyber threats which target younger demographics.
While certain online threats are typically more prevalent for young adults and teenagers, cyber safety is critical for children of all ages. Small children are digital natives, so when parents encourage safe netiquette (Internet etiquette) from a young age they are helping to contribute to a safer and more tolerant cyberculture. Furthermore, there are still serious risks associated with small children using the internet, which include but are not limited to: cyberbullying, online predators and grooming, digital addiction, and exposure to violent images and pornography.
Fact: 8% percent of 8 to 9 year-olds have communicated online with people they didn’t know; and 22% have shared information online that they know they shouldn’t have.
The internet has given new meaning to stranger danger. Parents now have to ask themselves what the parameters are; what constitutes an online stranger? How easily can they be identified? Can an online stranger become a friend under the right circumstances?
When parents caution their children against talking to strangers in real life, that warning doesn’t typically extend to not talking to other children or peers. Would you forbid your child from talking to a kid in the opposing team at their soccer match? Or would you permit it on the basis that they are learning vital social interaction and friendship making skills?
Now, consider they are playing a virtual soccer game online. Many online games enable users throughout the world to play collaboratively, and have inbuilt chat functions so that players can communicate throughout the game. Your child scores a goal, and another user congratulates them. Another player exercising sportsmanship? Or a predator baiting an innocent child?
In the context of face-to-face reality it’s fairly easy for young children to recognise whether or not someone is a stranger to them, but there are many ways in which this line can become blurred online. The ability to safely navigate this line is particularly difficult for young children, as they lack the capacity to properly evaluate risk. It’s scenarios like this that illuminate the need for parents to educate their children on cyber safety, so that they can feel protected and empowered online.
The key here is to make cyber safety relevant, timely and meaningful to children. If the action you request from your child (e.g. don’t talk to strangers online) doesn’t have a clear relationship with the risk posed (e.g. online predators) then your child probably won’t uphold it. Children are more inclined to abide by rules that resonate with them, or where they can immediately see a relationship between the action and the protection it offers (e.g. checking for cars before they cross the road).
Fact: A proven way to be safe online is to be digitally literate. Digital literacy gives children the skills to navigate cyberspace, adjust privacy settings, judge the authenticity of online content, and understand proper netiquette.
The internet, when used safely, can be a great space for children. It enables them to develop essential skills, socialise with others, learn new things, and play and have fun! While having established rules and ongoing communication will help to keep kids safe online, so will empowering them to Be Internet Awesome.
Google’s Top Cyber Safety Tips For Kids:
- Be Internet Smart: Share with care
- Be Internet Alert: Don’t fall for fake
- Be Internet Strong: Secure your secrets
- Be Internet Kind: It’s cool to be kind
- Be Internet Brave: When in doubt, talk it out
Safe: to keep safe online, you should avoid giving out personal information such as your email address, phone number, address, or passwords
Meeting: if someone you’ve been talking to online asks to meet you in person, you should only do so with your parents’ or carer’s permission
Accepting: try to avoid opening files or messages from people you don’t know or trust because it could contain a virus or dangerous
Reliable: people online sometimes lie about who they are, or share fake information online – so if you’re not sure if someone is telling you the truth, you should check the information with a trusted adult
Tell: if someone makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, you should tell your parents, carer, or another trusted adult.
Top Cyber Safety Tips For Parents:
- If your child comes to you for assistance on an online encounter they’ve had, try not to be judgmental; regard it as a learning experience
- Be sure to set a good example yourself, and ensure that older siblings or other adult influences in your child’s life promote appropriate use of the internet
- Take the time you teach your child effective conflict management skills, and what actions they can take if someone confronts or antagonises them
- Be an ongoing resource in helping your child to consider the potential consequences of their online actions, not just for themselves but for others (remember, children don’t have fully developed frontal lobes – which is the part of the brain responsible for consequence anticipation – so this can be challenging for them to do on their own)
- Educate your child on the importance of privacy, and keeping their personal information secure
- Explain red-flag behaviours in a way that young kids can understand; you might tell them that chatting to other players about the game publicly within the game is okay, but to tell you if anyone ever messages them privately or asks for offline contact
- Check privacy and location settings, use parental controls, configure your home computer’s browser search settings, and familiarise yourself with how to make complaints about offensive content
- While it might be tempting to use spyware or surveillance apps, it’s best to try and nurture mutual trust between you and your child so that they don’t go to extra effort to hide things from you.