5 ways to protect your kids from cyber stranger danger

Kinderling News & Features

Stranger danger is something we have drilled into us from a young age; but it can be much harder to teach children to be safe if the danger and risks are cyber ones. We can't monitor our children 24-hours-a-day, and sometimes it feels like they know more about the latest apps and games than we do.

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner is a hub for parents and carers to go when they don’t know what to do when it comes to educating their children about the online world.

Toby Dagg and Julie Inman Grant are both from the Office and say there are a few simple things parents can do, no matter the age of their children, to ensure their safety online.

1. Know who they communicate with

Be aware of who your child is 'friends' with online. Start by  going through your child's friend list with them, partricularly in light of the fact that since the dawn of Facebook the word 'friend' has taken on such a different meaning to when parents grew up.Toby says this is a great way to sort out "who's who in the zoo and start making decisions about safeguarding your child while they're using a particular app."

2. Explain basic app skills and use

It can seem obvious, but basic is best when it comes to teaching our children to be safe online. In one particular instance an individual was posing as Justin Bieber on Twitter and made contact with over 900 young people. Toby says to start by teaching kids how apps work, such as a blue tick on a twitter account to verify identity. Using this instance as an example Toby explains "One of the ways that as parents we can talk to our children about avoiding being victims to [those] kind of behaviours is doing really sensible things like saying well if it was really Justin Bieber, he would have a blue tick next to his profile, that would indicate that he was authenticated as a public person. Those kinds of signposts can be really powerful tools to help our kids navigate the online world."

3. Keep privacy settings up to date

It's not enough to simply have a parental control applied to a device. Each app that your child can use has individual settings which need to be considered as they can overide, or make partially redundant, your security settings. This is something that should be done with your child present so they know what and why you are putting these safety barriers in place, particularly when creating individual accounts for games and online portals. "Help guide them through the process but you should also probably be setting up the appropriate level of privacy and safety settings you should also look at what the appropriate age is for that young person to be going on that particular service," says Julie.

Listen to Toby and Julie on Kinderling Conversation

4. Educate yourself 

It's almost impossible to keep your family safe online if you don't know how the apps and games your children use, work. It can be daunting, but equipping yourself with a basic level of understanding will help keep you abreast of any warning signs of unwanted attention being directed toward your child.  Some games or apps may have things like hidden chat functions that aren't obvious at first. Toby says "some of the technology they're using will have a social  networking or chat function that may not be apparent from a cursory glance and it’s good to dive in and really understand the mechanics."

5. Understand how 'stranger danger' has changed

One of the key things to be aware of is your children are growing up in an era where the concept of stranger danger is vastly different to the one you grew up with. Differentiating between a danger in person, and a danger on the internet is very complex for a child, Julie explains. "We have to remember that the child's frontal lobe is not developed and they cannot distinguish between a stranger online and a a stranger offline. You'll remember that comic with the dog sitting on the computer saying "nobody on the internet knows I’m a dog", the same thing applies... [Have] sensible guidelines [and] be engaged [in] talking to your kids. As your kids get older setting up ghost accounts which means they may have an account they set up for the benefits of their parents to see on Facebook or Instagram but they may be setting up a separate account that they use to engage in more risky behaviour."

Where to start

If all of this is an information overload, never fear. The Office of the eSafety commissioner have an iParent Portal full of resources and fact sheets, plus contact details if you'd like to speak to someone directly about your families online safety.

Julie adds "technology is always going to out pace policy... Kids are always going to be flocking to the new services before the parents get there but we’re going to do our best to make parents aware of the types of programs that their kids are likely using."

This blog is part of our Safety Net Series: Keeping our children safe online. Listen to other episodes from the series where we cover things such as protecting your family from inappropriate content, below.