In today’s modern age of thriving technology our children have the world at their fingertips 24 hours a day. There is no argument that technology has made massive inroads in allowing our children to have access to the world’s greatest research and social media, however, the downside of this technology is that our children are exposed to many potential online dangers that can devastate our younger generation.
Our young people can unfortunately be exposed to many risks that include; content exposure to material online that promotes values, activities or knowledge that may be harmful or distressing to children including; pornography, depictions of violence, hate-incitement and material promoting drug-taking, anorexia, smoking, suicide and other forms of self-harm.
There are also multiple other risks that involve invasion of privacy, loss of security, identity theft, legal and financial breeches.
Most of us have heard the terms “cyberbullying” and the online “grooming” aspect of solicitation.
Cyberbullying exposure is evident through the Internet, personal websites or blogs, email, or discussion groups as well as through message boards, online personal polling sites, chat services, instant messaging (IM), or social networking websites.
At the higher end of the scale is “grooming “by paedophiles and other coercive sexual behaviour. These contact requests attempt to engage our young people in sexual activities or sexual talk, or give personal sexual information that is unwanted or, whether wanted or not, made by an adult.
Interestingly, the language used by groomers to connect with children is more subtle and non-sexual than would be expected, as groomers try to develop an emotional bond with their victims to persuade rather than coerce them. The groomers are relatively truthful about their age; they do not try to hide the fact that they are adults.
We can best protect our young people through education. When you hand a child a mobile phone, tablet or give them access to a computer they need to know the safety rules and be sure to teach them how to behave online. Should they run into trouble, support them in working out how to deal with it, including where to find help.
Besides normal parental supervision, it is important to also tell your kids that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. There are also several ways parental controls can manage web connected devices in the home and keep children safe. These include the blocking of; sexually explicit sites, in app purchases, phone numbers and SMS messages. There is also parental monitor features and restriction of social chat platforms.
Tell your kids to keep their passwords safe and not share them with friends. Sharing passwords can compromise their control over their online identities and activities. Importantly, always encourage them to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, are being cyberbullied.
There is certainly no doubt that the internet provides many valuable and engaging opportunities, but it can also expose our young people to offensive and illegal materials and online predators, we must do everything we can to protect them.
Beyondblue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live. They can be contacted on 1300 22 4636 or https://www.beyondblue.org.au/.
This article was originally published in The Examiner on Friday 5 May 2017
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