Trends, Issues and Challenges of Parenting in the Digital Age
By Claire Melloy, Assistant Principal, Student Development
The first half of 2019 has seen a number of digital issues that could have created some confusion and concern for parents and carers. We have seen viral challenges that turned out to be hoaxes, gaming preoccupation (‘Fortnite’ has not gone away), and the ongoing challenges around privacy, virtual reality, negative experiences and social media ‘influencers’ .
What can a parent do? While the common phrase is expressed in the negative: “don’t panic”, the positive advice is “parent”, i.e. be an active parent.
Research undertaken by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner in 2018 into the digital lives of young people in Australia found that parents are one of the most important sources of support when things go wrong online.
Not surprisingly, 95% of parents said that they needed additional online safety information, with the most popular areas of concern being:
- ways to maintain their child’s privacy online
- how to protect their child from approaches from strangers
- the signs and symptoms of a child experiencing negative incidents.
In an attempt to respond to this, I have adapted the following from the eSafety Commissioner’s eSafety Guide for Parents. https://esafety.gov.au/parents
1. Protecting your child’s privacy online
Whatever the age of your child
Sit down together and check privacy settings on social media accounts, apps and devices — ensure they have selected the highest privacy setting. Learn how in taming the technology or explore the eSafety Guide for links to help you understand and adjust privacy settings.
- Play alongside them in online games to see what kinds of information they may be sharing. Get to know the apps and devices your child is using. If you would like to learn more about individual apps, games or services, check the eSafety Guide.
Respect their privacy yourself
- Think before sharing or tagging photos of them (see can I safely share photos of my kids online?)
If you are concerned that a photo or video of your child has been posted online without your permission, ask for it to be removed
- As a first step, you can ask the person who posted the photo or video to remove it. If the person refuses, or you do not know who posted it or do not feel able to contact the person, you may wish to report the content to the site or social media service it was posted on.
- Visit the eSafety Guide for more information about contacting or reporting material to social media services.
- If the photo has been posted through your child’s school or a sporting club or other group, contact the organisation directly to raise your concerns. They should be able to refer you to their social media policy, which should provide details about the type of photos that can be posted, the way they will be used and how they obtain consent from parents or carers.
And depending on your child’s age:
Toddlers and preschoolers (0 to 5)
- Start setting good habits with your toddler or preschooler. It is never too early to start talking about safe behaviour online.
- You will find some advice on this in online safety basics and good habits start young.
Kids and teenagers (5 to 17)
Advise them not to share personal information unnecessarily
- Explain why they should avoid putting personal information on their social media profiles. This includes their phone number, date of birth, personal email address, passwords, home address, the name or address of their school, and photos of identifying landmarks.
- Help them understand that when online games, competitions, prizes and rewards require users to register and provide personal information like email address, interests, age and gender, this information is often used by marketers to promote products and services.
Encourage good password habits
- Remind them to select passwords carefully and not to share these with friends.
- Strong passwords are truly random and they are long. Avoid using words and numbers that could be easily associated with them (like a pet’s name or a birth date). Longer passwords are harder to crack, so help them choose a random combination of numbers, letters and punctuation, and consider using a password manager. For more information see protect your personal information, which includes tips on how to set strong passwords.
- Ensure your child’s mobile devices have pin locks or passcodes, so their personal information is safer if they lose their device.
Remind them about their digital reputation
- Like everyone who uses the internet, over time your child is building a digital or online reputation based on all the things they say and do online. Help them understand that this digital footprint can last forever.
- Remind them to take care of their digital reputation as well as the reputations of others. They should not post images of others without their permission and should take care when making comments about others.
Encourage them to think before they post or share
- Even if their profile is set to private, they cannot control what their friends will do with the information that they post online or share via text or SMS. Ask how they would feel if their photo or information was shared with strangers.
- Talk to your child about the consequences of posting offensive or inappropriate material of themselves or others online. Explain that it may affect their social life, academic results or job prospects. There may also be legal effects. Ask them, how they would feel if they could not get a job they really wanted because of something they posted online? For more information on how to start the chat, see the hard-to-have conversations.
Be aware of online advertising
- Companies can build a profile of your child by compiling data of their online behaviour. You can control cookies and use add-ons and adblockers to help manage the amount of information companies can collect.
Help them understand about sexual images and the law
- Explain that they may be committing a criminal offence when taking and/or sharing sexual images of themselves or others who are under the age of 18.
- As an adult, be very cautious if you have intercepted any content that may constitute child sexual abuse material. Do not interact with the information, forward or share it in any way. Immediately seek guidance from your local police.
- You can find more advice on this in sharing nudes and sexting.
- Report and block — if they receive any unwanted contact from someone they know or a stranger, encourage them to report and block this person.
- Delete requests from strangers — encourage your child to delete friend or follow requests from people they don’t know.
2. Protecting your child from approaches from strangers
How to deal with unwanted contact
Unwanted contact is any type of online communication that your child finds unpleasant or confronting, or that leads them into a situation where they might do something they regret. This can happen even if they initially welcomed the contact. It can come from strangers, online ‘friends’ your child has not met face-to-face, or from someone they actually know.
- Make their accounts private — suggest that your child makes their social media accounts private or revises their privacy settings regularly.
- Delete contacts they don’t talk to — ask them to go through all the people who follow them or are friends with them on social media and check that they actually know them.
3. Signs and symptoms of a child experiencing negative incidents
Your child may not tell you if they are experiencing bullying behaviour online because of a fear it might make things worse for them or they may lose access to their devices and the internet.
Signs to watch for:
- being upset after using the internet or their mobile phone
- changes in personality, becoming more withdrawn, anxious, sad or angry
- appearing more lonely or distressed
- unexpected changes in friendship groups
- a decline in their school work
- changes in their sleep patterns
- avoidance of school or clubs
- a decline in their physical health
- becoming secretive about their online activities and mobile phone use.