Recent research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), obtained from a random sample of students of different ages across the nation, shows that the average weekly use of computers by children has risen from 3 hours in 2006 to 13 hours in 2013i. Other research indicates that the risk of cyberbullying is directly correlated with time spent using the computerii. While it isn't likely that we will be able to completely control what our kids do when they are online, it's beneficial to know how to appropriately supervise our kids' technology use and properly manage issues if they arise.
Tips for online safety
There are a few things you can do as a parent to protect your child's safety online. Firstly, place the computer in an open area in the home such as the living room where it is easy to glance at the screen from time-to-time. This will make it easier for you to observe what your child is doing and will also make them consider how they spend their time on the computeriii. Consider requesting that your child add you as a friend or contact on social media sites so that you can check who they are talking to and the type of information and photos they are posting. You should keep in mind that your child will probably be embarrassed if you comment on everything they post, however, and may go so far as to create an alternative account without telling you. Observing from afar is keyiv.
Along with placing the computer in an accessible and open area, why not install an Internet child-safe content filter? The filter will allow you to restrict access to websites that are deemed inappropriate for children. Some filters are more effective than others, however, so take some time to discuss which websites are appropriate with your child, which will also encourage them to make safer choices. The Internet Industry Association (IIA) list a number of tested 'family friendly' filters on their website to aid in choosing the right filter to suit your familyv.
Talking to your child about the type of behaviour that is acceptable on the Internet is crucial. This way they will know the parameters of what the computer can be used for and what conduct is appropriate. Agree on rules for Internet usage and display a copy of the rules near the computer so that your child will be reminded each time they sit down to use the computervi.
Discuss the importance of only communicating with people they know in real life and alert them to the potential danger of contacting strangers. In your discussion, emphasise that they should think about what information they share online, including personal and confidential information and private photos. Remind your child that anything posted online will remain in cyberspace indefinitelyiii. Most importantly, let them know that if there is a problem, they can confide in you or contact a kid's helpline, if that makes them feel more comfortablevi.
While bullying may be a part of growing up that many children and teenagers are exposed to in their daily lives, it is still something that can have a severe impact on the person being targeted. Cyberbullying is one form of harassment which occurs through electronic technology and is designed to threaten or intimidatevii. Your child could be exposed to cyberbullying through social media, text messages, chat forums, and other websites. If you notice any significant changes in your child's physical appearance or demeanour, it may be a result of bullying either online or at schoolviii. They might experience dramatic mood swings, spend more time with family instead of friends, try to avoid going to school or begin to show anxiety about going online or using their phoneix. Try to talk to your child about what they've been doing online in a similar way to asking them about what happened in the playground or school that dayii.
There are several ways to minimise the risk of your child being negatively affected by cyberbullying. Firstly, discuss what cyberbullying is with your child; let them know that if they feel threatened or upset by anything that is communicated to them online that they don't have to respond or deal with it alone. Explain that cyberbullying may involvex:
- Repeated calls or emails;
- Threatening or abusive texts, tweets, comments or messages; and
- The publishing of personal information online.
Advise them to block or report any bullying online so that the person doing the bullying is unable to make contact. If the bully is someone your child knows from school, keep a log of the offensive behaviour and consult with the school about ways to tackle the issuexi.
Although it might be hard to completely monitor and protect your child from the reality of the online world, the Internet is here to stay. Discuss with them the parameters of online usage and let them know that you will always be around to help if anything begins to disturb them online. Communicating with your child to inform them you will support them no matter what happens online is crucial in ensuring your child stays safe online.