The Conspiracy Of Silence Around Cyber Safety And Kids

The Conspiracy Of Silence Around Cyber Safety And Kids

 

Conspiracy of Silence
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Another cyber safety talk has just been held at my sons high school. This was held by the A.C.M.A an Australian Government organisation that gives cyber safety talks every year for students and parents all over Australia. Last year at my son’s school parents of 12 families turned up for the free talk held by the same organisation in the evening, just for parents, this year only 13 parents made it a priority to come. Despite plenty of warning and publicity only a tiny fraction of parents of some 800 students showed up to the talk. Most Australian schools with a few exceptions are experiencing the same reluctance of parents to turn up to cyber safety talks.

Some schools have resorted to holding school district talks, because they need to make up the numbers. Teachers and community leaders are racking their brains to try and understand how to make the talks more appealing to parents so that parents will show up.

Why? Because most of the problems that kids have online happen at home, and if mum or dad don’t understand what they need to watch out for, no amount of “friending” your child on Facebook is going to help. There are new apps and devices to watch out for every year, and schools and police are reporting increasing levels of harm coming to children online.

Below are some of the reasons I’ve heard that have been given to Cyber Safety presenters by parents as to why they don’t think it’s important to go to these talks. Please add some in the comments if you know of some others.

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  1. They already feel well informed.
  2. They are too busy
  3. Their kids aren’t online much
  4. They know all about Facebook
  5. They believe it’s the schools responsibility to teach cyber safety
  6. They don’t feel capable of understanding the technology anyway
  7. They think their child is safe online
  8. They will wait till their child is older
  9. You can’t wrap your child in cotton wool
  10. We have anti virus and a firewall, we are safe

We Parents Are THE First Generation That Have Had To Deal With Cyber Safety

Cyber Safety talks are unlike any other sort of previous parent educational talk. Most other parent education talks in the past were subjects like drug and alcohol talks, body image talks, sex ed talks. These subjects have been around long enough that most of us have a basic understanding of them either as a parent or as a teen ourselves.

Cyber safety for a large percentage of parents, is something they have never had to deal with before, either as a parent or as a user of the internet themselves. Because the subject is so new, it is one of THE most important subjects that parents need to be educated on. It certainly wasn’t included in our education when we were a student, or for most of us, part of our growing into adulthood.

So why are parents not understanding that it is of utmost importance to be kept up to date with Cyber Safety, particularly as the type of dangers your child can get into changes every year! And children using internet connected devices get younger and younger every year. Last year it was all about Facebook, and although Facebook is not off the danger list, this year mobile apps is the new force to be reckoned with, due to the amount of mobile devices and apps available to children.

Incidents Of Cyber Bullying and Harm Online is Still Rising

Which is not surprising, given that the frequency of use of internet connected devices is also rising in children. In Australia the latest figures show that one in 4 kids is bullied online. That could be anything from being ganged up on Facebook to outright stalking and harassment on many types of apps and platforms. So with that many kids coming to grief online, why is that message not getting through to enough parents?

Seat Belts, Fire Alarms, Fences Around Swimming Pools….

It’s human nature to put off doing anything that might make our lives safer if it costs money or is a bother. Fencing around swimming pools only really kicked off, when it became mandatory. It didn’t seem to matter how many toddlers lives were lost, some people just didn’t want to spend the money, thinking that in their particular case it would never happen.

With all these type of insurances, it’s families and children that suffer when gates are left open, fire alarm batteries are allowed to go flat, and seat belts not worn…This type of head-in-the sand ” it won’t happen to us” attitude costs our society more than just lives. Great amounts of federal and state money are spent to investigate and prosecute those that through their lack of care and forsight have shown in some cases gross negligence.

You Can’t Wrap Them Up In Cotton Wool!

Or…“you’ll never be able to keep one step ahead of them anyway…” One of the biggest problems with helping parents understand why they should consider coming to a Cyber Safety Talk, is they often feel that it’s pointless to try and protect their child, “You can’t wrap them up in cotton wool” but that’s not correct, some small changes with safety settings on your computer or their mobile device , might make the difference between them finding something on the internet for their school project and seeing a pornographic image at 8 years old.

Many parents feel that their child isn’t having a problem, nothing they can’t handle, so they don’t need education on cyber safety, and anyway the school is educating their child.

Lastly: Some parents really just don’t understand how the internet works, they really do think that all the software they use is protected by the government or their internet provider, their firewall or some other fairy, and so it’s quite safe for their child to use.

The Conspiracy Of Silence

I think that there is a “conspiracy of silence” around this particular issue amongst educators, parents and their children. Because of this silence it leads many parents to wrongly assume that there is very little harm that can come from unfiltered access to the internet by their young children.

The silence is unintentional but symptomatic of todays litigious society and the speed with which rumours and gossip can flow through our digital world. And…although this type of silence is not new, what is new is the change from past issues that most parents had to face with their child, typically drugs, sex, and crime issues. Most parents just don’t have ANY experience with the sort of issues our children are facing online.

Children Aren’t Telling

Recent statistics show that only 10% of children tell someone when they have been bullied or harmed online. Other studies show that the majority of parents don’t know what their children are exposed to online.

This recent study From EU Kids Online shows this alarming statistic.

“40% of parents whose child has seen sexual images online do not realise their child has seen them; 56% of parents whose child has received nasty or hurtful messages online say that their child has not; for sexting, the figure is 52% of parents, and for offline meetings with online contacts it is 61% of parents who do not realise their child has gone to these.”

Even though this survey was done in the EU, it’s safe to say that there is quite a disparity between what kids are experiencing and parents are being told, and similar statistics might apply here in Australia.

Teachers Aren’t Telling

Teachers that are informed of cyber bulling by students that attend their schools, or even worse, told about experiences like pedophile approaches are not informing the general population of parents of their students when it is happening. I see this clearly with my children’s own schools failure to report such things. I think it may be due to legal matters, and also because it may show the school in a bad light, and probably it’s also a privacy matter. Unfortunately school principles aren’t even talking about the frequency of these occurrences even in general terms.

One parent I spoke to, told me that her daughter’s school specifically would not warn other school parents that a particular app was being used within the school grounds on students iPods and smart phones for bullying. After seeking legal advice the school informed this parent they were under no obligation to inform school parents about this app, and apparently they couldn’t block the use of this app through the school Wi Fi either.

Teachers tell me that most occurrences where their students have reported a bad experience online has happened either at home or on the way home. Increasingly schools are unwilling to get involved in a cyber incident that occurs outside the school, although, parents and students are still largely reporting these incidents to the school asking for help. This may be another reason why Schools are reluctant to publicly state the rate of cyber related incidents to the parent population, they feel it’s outside their boundaries of responsibility.

Parents Aren’t Telling

Parents are also not talking openly about their child’s experiences online with other parents. Perhaps because of the embarrassment and shame around such issues and the desire to protect the child, most parents won’t talk about how their child was hurt online and subsequently don’t warn other parents. If a parent finds out their child is using an app that is designed for meeting strangers online, and that parent knows that many other children at her kids school are using it, IF that parent actually talked about it, other parents would be informed. But that type of community support is not happening while parents keep quiet about it.

Parents Being Kept In The Dark

I’ve spoken to Police representatives, Teachers, parents and students, and between all of them the real figures that show the frequency of harm that is being done to children online is by omission being totally misrepresented to parents. It’s no wonder parents feel they can afford to miss cyber safety education.

I would agree that there will always be parents who are negligent, the sort of parents who won’t put a car seat in their car to keep their toddler safe, and there will always be parents who are incredibly naive. But the amount of parents showing up to cyber safety talks is so low, I don’t believe it’s just a case of out of sight out of mind or negligence. It’s a total lack of real life awareness. Parents are just not being told the real story.

Parents think they know a LOT more than they do

Right now so many parents and carers are totally focused on the dangers on Facebook, meanwhile their child could be talking to a predator on an iPod app.

  • Almost one in two Australian parents (46.1%) feel they are “well informed” about cyber safety issues, with a further 33.2% “feeling somewhat” informed. Respondent views varied with locality , with almost half of the parents living in major cities or inner regional areas feel that they are well informed, compared to just over a third of parents in outer regional areas (35.2%) and quarter of those in remote areas (26.7%). 2010

The numbers just don’t add up. With all the education of children about cyber safety, and parents feeling they know enough, why are so many children getting into trouble online?

Scare Campaigns?

Parents see reports through the media about horrible occurrences happening to children online, but because they are not generally aware of any issues in their own families, schools and parent networks, the media reports can seem alarmist and out of proportion. The “That’s not happening in our area” syndrome. We hope these media stories help, but if parents don’t have even 2nd had experience of this, don’t know how easy it is for it to happen to their child…or know that it might have already happened to their child, then they just don’t heed the warnings. “I thought my child was safe” Is one of the saddest statements I have personally heard from a parent, and I’ve heard it many times.

The Solution?

There may not really be a short term one. If schools are reluctant to give real figures out to parents of occurrences of harm online that has happened to their students, if parents are not supporting each other, if children are not talking and reporting their online incidents, it will take a long time before I see a day when parents will start to understand that going to a cyber safety talk is a very important and essential first step.

A Nation Wide Campaign

I do believe we need a national campaign to encourage parents to learn more about technology and the internet to help educate themselves and to protect their children. The campaign has to be positive, but it also has to be realistic. The campaign need to be encouraging of open conversations between all the parties, education and support.

Community Support Is Vital

Without full community support, where schools, parents and children start to have real conversations about what is really going on for each of them, it’s going to be an uphill battle for prevention and reduction of online harm to our nations children.

Parents need to talk to other parents, teachers need to be truthful about the reports they are getting of harm to their students online with their students parents. And kids, need to be able to talk to their parents or some other carer about their online experience without fear.

 


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