Advice on safety issues from our partners
Below are some issues that we know can often be concerning to parents. We work closely with a number of child safety organisations in Australia and we’ve included advice from these partners in the sections below.
- Sexually explicit and violent material
- Meeting strangers online
- Protecting personal information
- Sites promoting inappropriate behaviors such as eating disorders and drug use
The cybersafety help button is an Australian Government initiative that provides an online resource hub, giving you instant access to help and information on cybersafety issues 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The button is a free application available from the website of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. Once downloaded, it sits on the computer desktop or within the taskbar. When you click the button, you are taken directly to a web page where they can talk, report or learn about cybersafety issues.
Protecting your child from sexually explicit and violent material
Children access the internet for a wide variety of reasons. In navigating cyberspace and searching for information on a wide range of topics, children are at risk of exposure to inappropriate material, such as pornography or violent material.
Technology provides parents with the option to install filters on their computers to reduce the risk of exposure to inappropriate material, but it must be integrated with education for best results. While filters are popular technology-based tools, they are inherently imperfect, and may allow some inappropriate material to leak through to a child. It is important to note that an adult who relies primarily on filters to protect their child may think the child is “safe” when, in fact, the risk of exposure has only been reduced, not eliminated. Therefore, regardless of whether filters are used, a child must learn how to deal with inappropriate material they may come across on-line.
In Australia there are certain types of online content that are prohibited. Some of the more prevalent prohibited materials include: child abuse images, unrestricted access to pornography, illegal activities, and terrorist-related material. It is therefore important as carers of children, to try and prevent those kids from seeing this content. Not only because it is prohibited by law, but because it may be psychologically harmful for those that see the content. It may be worthwhile discussing some guidelines for using the internet with your children or even setting up an internet filter blocking these harmful sites.
If you have come across content which you believe to be illegal or prohibited, you can report it to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) via their online form.
Children using the internet and mobile phones can be exposed to material that is inappropriate or even harmful for them. This could be material that is sexually explicit or offensive, violent, racist, sexist or encourages activities that are dangerous. Some sites and services contain material that may be prohibited under Australian law.
The most effective strategy parents can use to protect their children from inappropriate or prohibited content is to be involved with their online activities. Talk with your children about where they go and support them when they need help. Sometimes children and young people are embarrassed or believe that they will be denied access to the internet if they report seeing this kind of content to a parent.
If you believe that the content you or your child have found may be prohibited, you can report it to ACMA via the online form.
Reducing the risk of your child meeting strangers online
Meeting and corresponding with new people is an exciting aspect of the online world. Unfortunately, not everyone is honest about who they are and children can be particularly susceptible to trusting people online. The reality is that there are predators who pretend to be a young person in order to befriend and gain the trust of children and young people.
We need to teach our children that just as we learn to protect ourselves from strangers in the offline world, we need to do the same online. Children often feel that they know someone simply because they have talked to them online. However it is easy to pretend to be someone you are not and meeting someone you have met online is one of the most dangerous things that a young person can do.
Parents should ensure that if a child wants to meet with someone they have befriended online that the parent speaks to the other person’s parents first and accompanies them to a public place to meet.
The deliberate actions taken by an adult to form a trusting relationship with a child with the intent of later facilitating sexual contact is known as online grooming. This can take place in chat rooms, instant messaging, social networking sites and email. Once contact has been made, child sex offenders then move towards more traditional means of communication such as over the phone. It is important to educate young people on the ways in which to recognise inappropriate or suspicious behaviour online. They need to be careful who they communicate with and should never agree to meet in person someone that they have only met online. It needs to be reinforced that personal information should not be posted or shared over the Internet. Young people need to be aware of what messages they are sending about themselves which may appeal to online child sex offenders.
If you believe that someone has behaved inappropriately or in a sexual manner towards a young person, you should report it to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) via their online form. The ACMA doesn’t investigate complaints of this nature, though, of course, would refer them on. More information can be found on the Cybersmart site and on the AFP site.
If you believe a child is in immediate danger or risk, call 000 or contact your local police.
Protecting personal information
While the internet offers great benefits, parents also need to be aware of the risks. These include privacy-related risks such as identify theft and fraud, scams and phishing. In addition, children and young people may share personally identifying information without being aware that this can be seen by other people that they may not know, or that, once online, it can be almost impossible for content to be removed.
Parents can help their children protect their privacy by staying involved in their children’s online activities, and talking to them about the kinds of information that can be shared online. When opening an account with a social networking service ensure that the appropriate privacy settings are checked. Children also need to learn to respect other people’s privacy, and not post up pictures or other information without that person’s permission.
It is essential that children understand how important it is to ensure that they do not publish any information that will identify them. Children and young people should be taught not to give out their full name, address, phone number or other identifying information such as the name of their school as this type of information can be used by predators to identify who the child is and where they are.
Not giving out identifying information is key to protecting children against exploitation. There are a number of ways in which people may exploit children online. Some people will misuse information that a child gives them. For example, people may begin to send explicit or abusive messages or post photos of the child or young person on other websites.
How to help stop cyberbullying
Young people have wonderful experiences online, but unfortunately cyberbullying is one of the main risks they experience there. Offline conflicts are frequently replicated online, on a range of platforms. Cyberbullying can take different forms, from name-calling and abusive comments, exclusion, online impersonation, spread of images without consent to threats of physical harm.
Bullying is a social relationship problem deeply embedded in our culture that requires relationship solutions. This means that the work of repairing relationships needs to happen in the context of those relationships – the school and at home. Because of the detrimental nature of all sorts of bullying, the harm experienced by both target and bully can persist into adulthood. Bullying hurts.
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation is a national charity keeping children safe from violence and bullying. Developed by the Foundation, eSmart is a world-leading system to help manage cybersafety, and deal with cyberbullying and bullying. It focuses on equipping the community with the skills to be smart, safe and responsible online.
Young people have fully embraced the use of information and communication technologies to maintain contact with friends and make new ones. They send emails, create their own web sites, post intimate personal news in blogs (online interactive diaries), send text messages and images via cell phone, message each other through IMs (instant messages), chat in chatrooms, post to discussion boards, and seek out new friends in teen community sites.
While most interactions are positive, there are increasing reports of these technologies being used to harass and intimidate others. This has become known as cyberbullying.
What can parents do if they feel their child is being bullied?
- Get involved and be aware.
Learn how your child is using these technologies and talk to them about what they do online. Encourage your child to speak with you if they feel uncomfortable or threatened by someone. An open line of communication is paramount, because if you “freak out” when they turn to you for help the first time, they won’t come back to you next time.
- Take action if your child is being bullied online.
Watch for signs that your child is being bullied. Reluctance to use the computer or go to school may be an indication. If you are aware of the bullying there are a few different solutions you could take. If the bully is from the same school, meet with school officials. If it escalates, report the issue to the police. Online harassment can be reported to your internet service provider. If it is through a mobile phone report the issue to the phone service provider.
- Encourage your child to develop their own moral code so they will choose to behave ethically with the technologies.
Talk to them about responsible use. Teach them to never post or say anything that they wouldn’t want the whole world – including you – to see or read. Work with them to create a contract or agreement with clear rules about ethical behaviour.
Cyberbullying is unfortunately extremely common amongst today’s youth. It is different to face-to-face bullying which can somewhat be monitored. Cyberbullying can happen anytime and anywhere, through any computer and any mobile phone. It can take a number of forms including posting negative and hurtful comments on social networking sites, sending unwanted and hurtful emails, excluding people from online events/groups and creating fake profiles or websites. It can be anonymous and it’s often extremely hard to track and punish the bullies. The child being bullied can be left with no idea who is posting the information, and not knowing who is bullying them.
The best response to cyberbullying is a pro-active and preventative one. Talk with your children about how they use the internet and set rules to ensure they themselves are behaving appropriately and not partaking in any bullying. If you suspect your child is being bullied by a schoolmate it is best to approach the school directly about the matter. If you feel your child is being bullied but unwilling to talk to you about the situation, perhaps suggest for them to call Kids Helpline and our experienced counsellors will help them through it.
Cyberbullying is the use of the internet, email or mobile phones to deliberately and repeatedly engage in hostile behaviour to harm someone. Cyberbullying can include harassment or behaviour that threatens, humiliates or intimidates, such as abusive texts. Cyberbullying can result in social, psychological and academic difficulties.
Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing online, and how to keep them safe. If your child is being cyberbullied encourage him or her to:
- talk to you if there is something troubling them; many children won’t confide in their parents because they’re afraid that they won’t be understood
- not respond or retaliate to any unwanted contact like rude emails or messages on social networking sites
- block the person who is behaving badly towards them, and report them to the service provider
- save the evidence, in case this has to be followed up at school, or reported to your ISP or to the police
- if there are threats, notify the police immediately.
Sites promoting inappropriate behaviors such as eating disorders and drug use
There are sites online that young people can access that promote harmful or inappropriate behaviours such as self-harm, anorexia, bulimia and even suicide. The information on these sites is presented in a way where anyone looking for information can be led to believe that such behaviours are more normal and appropriate than they really are. Youth are at an impressionable age and a visit to these sites may cement negative thoughts they were already having. It is rare for people to ‘stumble across’ sites such as these. If you find your children on sites promoting harmful or inappropriate behaviours, chances are they are looking because someone has given them a little information or they have seen or heard about someone participating in them. The information they find might lead them to feel that what is presented is normal and is therefore approved.
Keep the lines of communication open with your children. Encourage them to talk with you about anything. Talking about tough issues or guiding them to safe information is extremely important. At Kids Helpline we understand that not all children want to talk to their parents. If you feel that your child is thinking about these inappropriate behaviours or searching for information about them online, perhaps you can suggest that they talk with a counsellor or call Kids Helpline to discuss their concerns.
For more information on the Kids Helpline please visit our website.
Not all material you come across on the internet will be right for you or your family. Material may be inappropriate because it breaches your social, religious, or cultural standards, or your own personal or family values.
Inappropriate content may be violent, sexually explicit, or promote unsafe behaviour such as eating disorders. It may also promote and detail dangerous or criminal activity, or promote extreme political or racist views. Some inappropriate material may also be prohibited or even illegal.
Such material could be harmful to children, and parents may wish to adopt the following strategies help protect their children from exposure to such content:
- Stay involved in your children’s online activities – talk with your children about where they are going and who they are communicating with online
- Keep the computer in a visible place in the home
- Use filters, labels and safe zones
To report prohibited online content, visit the ACMA’s Online Hotline.
Malware: What is it and how to make sure your children don’t install it
Malicious software, or malware, is an unfortunate fact of life when using the internet. Malware includes viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware and adware. These can have not only disruptive impacts on how your computer operates, but can also be used to steal your personal information or even allow your computer to be remotely controlled and used for illegal purposes. Malware can be spread in a variety of different ways: through email, either through attachments or links, clicking on pop-ups or even by visiting infected websites. It is important to practice safe internet behaviour which lowers your risk of being infected by malware and also by using anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
To protect yourself from Malware, these are a few simple tips to follow:
- Install and maintain anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
- Do not use the internet when signed in as an administrator on your computer
- Do not open emails from people you do not know and are not expecting
- Do not click on a link in an email
- Use spam filters