Online Safety and Cyber-Bullying Tips For Parents

With our kids glued to their laptops (or smartphones, or tablets…), it’s hard for parents to know exactly what they’re doing online.

Even more troubling, recent statistics from Telstra show that 52% of young people regret posts they have made online, and 82% did not realise the long-term impact of their posts. And now that the new school year has started, the challenge for parents to protect their kids from cyber bullying has never been more important.

Telstra’s Manager of Cyber Safety, Shelly Gorr, said that today’s culture of online sharing has changed society’s notions of privacy forever and that it is important to equip children with tools and advice to participate in the digital world safely.

“Ongoing conversations with your children about cyber safety essentials such as when to share personal information online, handling approaches from cyberbullies and applying social network privacy settings could avoid a lot of regret in the future,” said Ms Gorr.

Rosie Thomas, the cofounder of anti-bullying and leadership organisation Project Rockit, said the Telstra research shows that children heading into the schoolyard armed with digital devices should be empowered to stand up for themselves and others online.

“Social media and the internet is an awesome place for breaking down social barriers and harnessing people power to do the right thing. We need to give young people the tools to make the most of everything the internet offers, including the strength to stand up and be leaders in both the online and offline worlds,” said Ms Thomas.

Here’s how to deal with online safety and cyber-buylling without alienating your kids:

1. Talk with your kids about their digital lives and let your children know you’re always there for them.

2. Protect personal information – teach your children how to turn on privacy settings.

3. Encourage children to ‘think before they click’, to think about content and the consequences of posting it.

4. Be an offline supporter. Encourage kids to have some screen-free time each day and turn off devices at bedtime.

5. Teach kids to treat others the same way they’d like to be treated online and be zero-tolerant to rude or mean online behaviour.

6. Don’t just talk about the right thing to do; be a role model with your own digital habits.

Have you spoken to your kids about online safety and cyber-bullying? 

February 4, 2014

Teaching Teenagers Cyber Safety

Today’s teens live their struggles, mood swings and relationship crushes under the glare of their social media connections. Teen popularity contests have extended beyond lunchtime gatherings and now include online ‘likes’, questions and comments. When all of your friends are on Facebook and run question sessions, could you miss out on these ways of communicating with your peers? Having no access to social media poses a fate worst that death for most teens – isolation, at a time they are the most desperate to fit in and be accepted.

As a parent, you want to protect your children from the risks of being online. You hear enough stories of online sexual predators, cyber bullying and teen suicides to warrant blocking some websites until your kids are at least 21. Unfortunately, bubble wrap is not a long term solution, for any scary stage of their lives. You need to equip your kids with the skills to become great adults, but that’s a delicate balancing act with their still immature teen brains. So, what’s the answer? Here are some strategies for keeping your teens safe online.

Age appropriate
The minimum age for an account on Ask.FM or Facebook is 13, but no proof of age is required. Within minutes of creating a fake email account, your kids can be signed up to social media too. At 13, you’d never let a stranger take photos of them or ask them questions, so enforce this online too. If it’s not appropriate for them in real life, it’s not appropriate online either.

Parental controls
You’d be careful about what movies they watched, so parental control settings are an effective way of blocking some of the stronger objectionable materials online. Start with any settings built-in to their computer, phone or tablet and add third-party software if you think it’s needed. Some parental controls can even block websites etc on a time schedule, so they can get in some online homework time before being distracted by Facebook.

Facebook privacy settings are different for 13-17-year-olds and change to standard adult settings once they turn 18. As confusing as they seem, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the privacy settings in any of your child’s social media accounts, ensuring they are set as tightly as possible. Because it’s not your account, the privacy laws will prevent you from getting Facebook to delete inappropriate photos of your child. On their smartphones, try the AVG PrivacyFix app which will make setting change recommendations in plain English. For younger teens, know their account passwords to reinforce that online access is a privilege, not a right and it’s still your job to know what’s going on in their lives.

My house, my online rules
When they get a social media account, set some house rules. These can include: real life friends & family only as connections online, no posting personal details (including school name, home suburb etc), parents are friend connections too. Set consequences for breaking the rules and spot-check them occasionally.  To retain some form of family time and to curb any online obsession, set a curfew for electronic devices prior to bedtime (including the parents’ phones too!) and don’t allow technology to be charged in bedrooms. It’s better for them to have a cheap alarm clock than to find out they were on Facebook at 1am.

Educate yourself
Don’t put cyber safety in the too hard basket. There are numerous resources online to help parents and teens with cyber safety and cyber bulling. Do some searching and see what you can find. Check with your local school for any resources they use or any presentations you could attend. As technology evolves, parents need to keep up with the latest trends, research and advice. Share what you’ve learnt with other parents and involve your school if you pick up on concerning chatter within your child’s peer group.

The points above still seem very controlling but with young teenagers they still need a high level of protection. As they get older, they are going to want more freedom and control of their own, so you have to keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your teen about what’s going on it their world. Talk to them about teen suicide headlines. Talk about what they’ve seen and heard online. This will be the hardest thing in this article to achieve, as teenagers are not always known for disclosing every detail of their lives. But it’s also the most important.

Talking gives you the opportunity for ‘how would you handle that’ discussions.  It reinforces that you do have their back when they are feeling hurt or upset by something they read or saw online. It helps you sow into their lives positive words that they are good enough, they are valuable, they are unique and that they are unconditionally loved.  The sad, common truth in the latest cyber bullying suicides is that the parents had no idea their kids were being subjected to online. Don’t let your parental guard down for the sake of their privacy.

How do you tach your teenage kids about cyber safety?

Sonia Cuff blogs about technology at Off the Cuff.

October 15, 2013

Teaching Your Kids Cyber Safety

Can somebody please update the parenting handbook? We could drown in advice about breastfeeding and toddler tantrums, but our children face a new challenge that was unheard of when we were kids – the Internet. This is one topic that you can’t run to Grandma for advice on and you didn’t face when you were growing up either.

You only have to look around a shopping centre, café or swimming lesson to see toddlers on iPhones and iPads. Sorry, you’re not going to be able to ignore this one. Cyber safety will definitely have to be added to your parenting prowess. So, where do you start?

Firstly, take advantage of the ‘parental controls’ or restrictions on your device, usually found under ‘Settings’. Here you can set a PIN and disable apps, turn off in-app purchases, block explicit material and enforce movie ratings. Also look at cyber safety apps like Mobicip or install a filter like CyberSafe247 on your home Internet connection (which will protect all devices on your home Internet).

Fortunately, pre-schoolers think that parents know everything and they are comfortable coming to you with questions. Yes, every single question that they can think of. Take advantage of this by being involved in what they are doing on your phone or iPad. Ask them to show you what they’ve been watching or playing. Unfortunately it’s all too easy for them to watch Dora the Explorer on YouTube and then click a link to find Dora exploring something that she shouldn’t be. Let them know it’s ok to talk to you if they see something weird.

As they get older and their literacy skills improve, their school may promote educational websites and apps for homework practice. When signing them up for an account on a website, create a separate, free email account (like Hotmail or Gmail) that’s not related to their real name and use that. Make sure you know all the account logins and passwords for any website that your child visits, and if they change the password without telling you, let them know there will be consequences!

For young teens, this is perfectly acceptable to enforce with their Facebook login too. Don’t step back on your supervision and compromise their safety because they wanted some privacy. If it’s not acceptable for you to see or read, they shouldn’t be putting it online. Keep the computer where you can see the screen when they are using it.

Often their first exposure to an online community is a site like Club Penguin, where they can interact with other kids. It’s important to reinforce that those other kids are just like the ones that sit next to you in class and that the same house rules need to apply. These include not being mean and not using rude words.

Now is also a good time to introduce the concept that because you can’t actually see those other people, you don’t really know who they are.  By this stage, children should be familiar with ‘stranger danger’ messages. Remind them that you wouldn’t tell a stranger where you live, so you shouldn’t give out your address, phone number, school or password online either. Tell them that if they ever get asked for that information, it’s ok to not reply and to go and get mum or dad. Watch out for signs that something isn’t right, for instance, they don’t want to go online again or they are unusually quiet after being on the computer.

Unfortunately, the lure of the Internet doesn’t wait until children have good sense and life experience. So instead of blocking all access until they are 21, capitalise on the opportunity to teach them good internet habits while they are young. Before you know it, they’ll be facing puberty, Facebook and SnapChat!

Sonia Cuff blogs about technology at Off the Cuff.

September 16, 2013