Despite a constant stream of internet horror stories, most parents are actively avoiding talking to their children about internet safety, including the perils of sexting and cyber bullying — simply because they’re not sure about how to broach the topic.
The study, commissioned by Norton Security, surveyed 600 Australian parents across the country, and found that nearly half (41 per cent) of parents had never discussed sexing, cyber bullying, or stranger danger online.
Out of those surveyed, nearly a fifth had been warned about their children’s social media activates by their school — but did nothing about it.
And when it comes to cyber bullying, only 15 per cent of parents admit to understanding the impact of online abuse on their children, despite one in three kids identifying themselves as victims.
Norton security expert Nick Savvides believes that parents have a responsibility to understand the technologies their children are using — no matter how time consuming or complicated they are.
“Parents have an obligation to educate themselves around what the threats really are to their children, and then to go home and discuss them with their kids,” he says.
“Parents will readily talk about road safety, safe sex, drinking and drugs, and the responsible behaviour around those things, but they kind of forget about the internet.”
Mr Savvides says most parents — a whooping 74 per cent of them — don’t see the online world as a subsidiary of the real world, and think that when a child is home in their bedroom, they’re safe.
“The reality is, they’re [online and offline] converged today,” he says.
“The majority of parents just don’t understand — when I saw the survey figures, I was surprised.
“Because you can’t avoid it, can’t ignore it, and I think that’s the problem.”
Danielle Errerra, a mother to seven-year-old twin boys and a 10-year-old son, says that technology has become an unavoidable part of life for children.
“Kids these days have grown up with the internet, playing games, watching videos doing school work — their lives are pretty much online,” she says.
“It’s pretty hard to avoid the online world.”
Despite the endless battle with technology — “it’s impossible to keep a watch over them all the time” — Ms Errerra has placed restrictions on the type of content her children have access to.
“I use the Norton Family parental control software to help me restrict what they’re viewing online, and I get a report telling me what they’re accessing and why,” she says.
“They also have to be in an open area when they’re on the internet so I can see what they’re doing.
“They don’t have iPhones or access to an iPad unless they’re in an area I can see and manage to some extent.”
Author, social advocate and former model Tara Moss — who has one daughter — has long since advocated for greater support for parents and children when it comes to online safety.
“Security, privacy and online ethics are now a necessary part of parenting, just like road safety and safe sex education,” she says.
“Kids using connected devices in the comfort of the family home may look harmless, but activity online has consequences and impacts beyond the home and that moment. To some, the internet may not be part of the real world, but it is.”
According to the Kids Helpline cyber bullying is common and most often occurs in primary school and early high school, with about half (50.6 per cent) of 10 to 14-year-olds reporting being bullied, followed by 44 per cent of 15 to 18-year-olds.
The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner also has a website dedicated to online issues such as cyber bullying, sexting, scams and more, with tips for parents and children.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
1. Have a conversation with your children as soon as you feel it is appropriate: children are often exposed to technology and the internet at a young age, even if you may not allow unfettered access at home.
2. Set house rules on how to use the technology available: for instance, children are only able to access the internet in supervised areas at certain times at home.
3. Engage them in conversation while also educating them: you want them on your side when you explain why they can’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on at a certain age, even if their friends do.
4. Talk to them about subjects you may find confronting, such as cyber bullying, sexting and online scams.
5. Spend some time looking at privacy controls on their social media, as the right level of privacy control can be very effective in preventing the loss of pictures or images your children should not have shared.
6. Explore the technology yourself: you need to understand what your children are doing and the ways in which they are using the different types of social media platforms.