Protecting your kids online starts with educating them

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

I am the first to admit I’m not very clever when it comes to technology.  I’m the kind of person who collapses at the first hurdle. I’m not a fan of going to the ‘help’ section and asking a question. I just want it to all make sense.

Which is why, for a long time, I’ve avoided embracing my role in keeping my kids safe online.

They’re still quite young, I reasoned. They’re not on Snapchat or Facebook, so why do I need to be thinking about this now?

Julie Inman Grant is the eSafety Commissioner, leading online safety education for the Australian Government. She has young children herself and says that if your child is playing with your phone, you need to start a conversation with them about safety.

“We need to look at technology now as the digital playground, and the same rules that apply in terms of overseeing your child out there in the reserve should apply to how you’re engaging with your children in their online lives,” she says. So that means getting involved with them early and often. If they are swiping that iPad they need to understand the digital dos and don’ts”.

Listen to Kinderling Conversation's Safety Net series:

Time to get serious. In an attempt to up my tech abilities online, I asked the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to send someone over to help me set up my privacy settings. Enter Sheona Colombage from their CyberReport team. She took me through my devices and here are two main insights I gained from the process:

#1 Things are rarely as hard as you expect they’ll be

My number one concern was that my son was going straight to YouTube whenever he got his little mitts on my phone. The easiest solution was to delete the YouTube app (duh). I normally watch videos through Facebook so that wasn’t a big sacrifice.

Also, most devices have their own internal safety settings that are really easy to navigate. On the iPhone or iPad you can find them in your settings, just go to general and then to restrictions. Your device will ask you to set up a pin code, which will be what you use to bypass the restrictions you’ve set up (for more advice on how to set up your own privacy settings – including on Android phones - check out the Office of Children’s Esafety Commission website for more).

#2 Settings aren’t always enough

When I was putting the restrictions on my phone I was surprised at how easy it was. It meant my children would only ever be able to see appropriate websites or apps. I felt very smug, I was now a digitally responsible parent. Alas, things are never that simple. You see, I use my iPad and iPhone for work so restrictions aren’t always practical.

The truth is online safety cannot be left to privacy settings alone. Firstly, it’s not practical. There are just some things you need to use. And secondly, it’s never enough. There is always some loop hole you may miss and being physically there and involved in their use of technology shows them that this is the way it will be in the future.

Starting a conversation that will last a lifetime

Being present while your child is playing a game means you can start talking to them about the technology they’re using, and guide them through what is safe behaviour online.

Julie suggests these are the same conversations you’re probably having off line.

“The values that we want our children to be displaying online are the same that we want them displaying in the real world. So values like respect, empathy, critical reasoning, thinking skills, being protective of our personal information and even of pictures of ourselves,” she explains. “I don’t think we have to change the discussion; we just have to apply it in a different way.” 

That is, when they play a game you can talk about what they’re learning and who they’re playing with. You can answer questions that might come up in the moment, just like you would if you were watching TV together, or something happens on the way to the shops.

The point is, the sooner we get involved with our kids use of technology, the sooner it will become a usual part of family life (as opposed to a mysterious something our kid does online in their bedroom behind closed doors).

It means we can build trust with our kids, that they can come to us if something happens that is upsetting or confusing.

It means not being in the dark when it comes to our kids’ safety online.

Remember you’re not alone

In this day and age there are plenty of online resources to help you manage this part of parenting. In Australia, the Office of the eSafety Commission has built the iParent Portal specifically to help parents.

Julie says we’re living in a brave new online parenting world, and that the Office is here to help.

“We’re trying to help parents navigate that brave new parenting world, [on the iParent portal] through tips,” she says. “We’re keeping it up to date on a regular basis so parents understand what services are being used, what are the risks, how do they manage those risks and how do they talk to their kids and help keep them safe online.”

If you’d like to explore the Iparent portal, check it out on the eSafety website.