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Internet safety is a conversation all parents should be having with their children. But what should this conversation really sound like?

As the Internet continues to become all encompassing and we move towards internet-connected toasters and smartshoes, it is vital for kids to understand the dos and don’ts of the World Wide Web.

There’s no doubt that the Internet enables us to do some fantastic things. It has created new opportunities that have changed the world, letting people achieve things we could never have imagined 20 years ago. The Internet is not all doom and gloom but, like all good things, there are some elements of bad lurking in the digital space.

Internet Safe Education founder Brett Lee has many great ideas for parents on how to keep kids safe in the digital age. Prior to launching his business Internet Safe Education in 2008, Brett spent 22 years in the police force – 16 of those as a detective in the field of child exploitation on the Internet. Brett spent thousands of hours using the Internet under the guise of fictitious children and adults, both male and female. Brett says his experience in the police force has enabled him to understand the Internet from two perspectives – that of an adult predator and that of an innocent child. As a father, he also intimately understands the parenting point of view.

“Eight years ago when I left the police force, there wasn’t any type of safety information out there for the end user, such as children and parents,” Brett says. “As I had seen the Internet from the eyes of a child, there was a lot of information I wanted to pass onto the wider community.”

Brett identified Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly, Facebook and Minecraft as the top five online applications used by children and teenagers in 2016.

Instagram

Instagram is an online photo-sharing app, which has a community of more than 500 million people. The app allows users to add filters and captions to their photos, which users can like and comment on. Instagram is reliant on the use of hashtags to categorise images, allowing users to find images of a similar nature. Brett says there are five main points for parents to consider around Instagram:

  • Make sure the highest privacy settings are activated
  • Let your child know you will ask questions and check their activity from time to time
  • Have time limits relating the amount of use of this app per day
  • Have basic rules for use (know your child’s password, explain what language is appropriate, know what personal information they are sharing, tell them to have respect for others and report abuse, tell them who they can associate with)
  • Continually talk to your child and make sure everything is going well.

Snapchat

The popular photo-sharing app allows users to share images that will ‘self-destruct’ after 10 seconds, however other users can screenshot snaps to keep them forever. The app uses location settings to allow for geofilters and has come under fire as people have used it to share graphic images.

Musical.ly

Musical.ly is the 2016 version of singing into your hairbrush. Users create 15-second videos lip-syncing to their favourite songs and then share them with their friends. While the app sounds like a bit of harmless fun, parents must be aware that like all social networking sites it enables users to interact with and connect with other users. This includes users you may not know. At its core, Musical.ly is not the first app of its kind. Similar video based apps such as Vine and Snapchat have existed for a number of years. Musical.ly however, specifically aims to appeal to children and they have gained real popularity with this age group. The content that is created and exists in this app can be highly sexualised and can contain language and concepts not appropriate for children. Potential issues you should be aware of as a parent or carer include:

  • Exposure to over-sexualised content and concepts
  • Exposure to inappropriate language
  • Being encouraged to create sexualised and inappropriate content whilst miming songs and mimicking artists
  • Sharing personal information with millions of strangers
  • Bullying/exploitative behaviour.

Facebook

Facebook is still the most popular social networking site, with over 1.71 billion monthly active users, however it has been stated that there are 83 million fake Facebook profiles as well. Users upload more than 300 million photos and 400 million status updates every day. The most common age group on Facebook is 24-35 year olds.

Minecraft

Minecraft brings the imagination of every 10 year old to life on the screen. This block-building game allows players to build whatever they can imagine within a virtual world. While Minecraft is a game, Brett says it is important for parents to approach games in the same manner as all online chatrooms and social networking sites. This is because games still collect information and connect users to other unknown people around the globe.

When is the right time to introduce social media?

Brett says irrespective of the age requirement or restriction a program or application has in place, it does not mean that when our children reach that age they automatically have a right to have or use that program.

“The sole discretion for this should always lie with the parent or carer,” Brett says. “Age requirements associated with programs are based solely on corporate or legal considerations, not on the health and wellbeing of the user.

“We decide as families how technology is used by our children and this includes the programs and apps they are allowed to use. We should consider the reason or need for them to use a program, any foreseeable issues the program may cause and the personality of our child. Some children are not set up to social network. In fact, even some adults are not set up to social network.

“It is important to remember though, that no program is essential to our child’s development and should never be placed above the health and wellbeing or our children.”

How can I keep my kids safe online?

Whether they’re browsing the web, gaming or chatting on social media, parents should put some rules in place. Brett recommends parents set the following rules for Internet use at home:

  1. Put time limits on usage
  2. Make children aware of who they can and can’t connect with online
  3. Set expectations around the use of appropriate language when using the Internet, apps or games
  4. Set rules around where and when your kids are allowed to use digital technologies
  5. Tell children what to do if they encounter any problems online.

He also encourages parents to set ‘Parental Controls’ on your child’s PC or Mac to protect them from malicious and dangerous Internet content (Brett provides separate how-to videos on his website for setting up parental controls on both platforms).

“The number one rule for Internet safety is for kids to keep communication open with trusted people such as parents. If anything goes wrong they should feel like they can tell their parents straight away,” he says.

Brett says it’s also never too early to talk to kids about Internet safety and recommends starting the digital safety conversation earlier rather than later to maximise its impact.

“Internet safety isn’t about technology – it’s about the health and wellbeing of our children,” Brett says. “We should start educating our children about Internet safety before they use the Internet.”

Brett brings his presentations to school groups, children, parents and teachers on how to maximise kids’ Internet safety. He also writes regular blog posts and creates free resources about social media, apps and Internet safety. These are all available on his website. Parents looking to have the digital talk should read these resource first to make sure they’re ready to help their kids find a safe place in the digital space.

Visit www.internetsafeeducation.com

Words // Nicholas Grech

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