Tips to keeping kids safe in the digital age.
Being a kid on the internet is normal. I realised just how normal only last week, when my 7-year-old daughter sent me an email while she was in her computing class in her public primary school (for the record, it said "Mum, can we go to the pool tomorrow?"). But with this kind of digital freedom comes responsibility, so let's take a look at the ways you can work with your child to keep them safe online and offline.
1. DO talk about cyberbullying
Parents: Cyberbullying is not harmless. Being bullied online feels no less harmful or devastating than if it were done in person. That's the most important thing you need to know about having kids that interact with others online, because your role is to make sure your child understands that he or she can come to you for support and advice if they are experiencing cyberbullying. Remember that it's okay to get the school involved in any situation where students are bullying other students. As with any bullying, the best chance you have to keep your lot safe from this kind of antisocial behaviour is to keep the conversation open.
Children: Talk to your kids about what kind of behaviour is appropriate online. Give them the analogy of a birthday party: if they wouldn't say it to their friends' faces, they shouldn't say it on the internet. Likewise, if their friends say something hurtful, the fact that it's online doesn't make it okay. Encourage them to speak up about bullying behaviour and to keep records of anything they see online that might affect them or people they know.
2. DON'T let them share any school information
Parents: As their parent, this is partly your responsibility. Not to be a paranoid old biddy, but a whole lot of the information we post online has location identifying information in it. If you post photos from your phone, chances are the image itself contains details about where you took it. If it's a shot of your adorable son on his first day of school, well, now people can find out where that is, if they're so inclined.
Children: If your child has access to a smart phone, a laptop or a tablet, chances are they also have access to a camera of some kind. Help them to understand what not to share - photos of them wearing their school uniforms or in front of school grounds can be all that's required to identify the institution.
3. DO use a filter - but don't rely on it
Parents: Products that filter out the bad stuff online are great: they can keep adult, hateful and illegal material away from impressionable young eyes. The easiest way to do this is by creating an separate login for them, then activating parental controls and filters specifically for that account. For example, Google has built-in parental controls, and on some operating systems you can create blacklists for websites that you might not want them to access. Limiting access in this way means your child can have their own space, and you don't need to watch over their shoulder. Having said that, parental filters are not without their faults, so don't rely on them to eliminate everything - they're not a replacement for your good sense!
Children: Kids are pretty savvy - they know when they've found something online that they shouldn't be looking at. If you're worried about how your child might respond to unsuitable content, have them use their computer in a communal family area. Set some ground rules and make them accountable for what they find. And when all else fails, let them know that parental filters can notify you of any questionable behaviour!
4. DON'T check in!
Parents: How fun is the internet? We now have the ability to let all of our friends and family know where we are at any given moment. Every time you "check in" on a public forum - like Foursquare or Facebook - you share another piece of our daily routine. If that routine is to visit a particular cafe before the morning school run, you could unknowingly be identifying where and when to find your kids.
Children: Don't let them post public information about their whereabouts. Depending on their age, they may have access to social media sites - even some of the kid friendly ones - and whilst it's tempting to share every aspect of their lives, don't encourage it. Whilst "we went to the pool today!" is fine, describing it by name and including the fact that they were allowed to run off on their own probably isn't.
5. DO ask for more information
There are some fantastic government resources to help parents and children better understand and manage online risks. In particular, the CyberSmart initiative is bursting with information for little kids, primary schoolers and teenagers, and provides that information in an interactive and engaging way.
Check out state-based resources for local information: