This is THE most common phrase that I hear after I’m contacted by a parent when something has gone wrong for their child online.
The second most common phrase is, “I’m really clueless about all of this, I wish I knew more”.
The reason these parents are contacting me and saying one of those two phrases might be that their child was exposed to porn via another child through a messaging app, or a link. Or even more shocking for the parent their child continued to download even more porn, and they don’t know how to stop them. It might be that their child was contacted by a complete stranger online without their parents knowledge, and then the child developed a friendship with that stranger who then groomed them to try and get them to send them nude photos. It might be that they found out their child was getting involved in sadistic websites or self harm sites online, or that their child was being badly bullied online and they didn’t know.
According to survey data released today by Internet security company, Norton by Symantec, many Australian parents are in the dark about their kid’s online activities and are avoiding crucial conversations about their children’s online privacy and security practices.
“Polling 600 Australian parents across the country, the Norton survey examines parents’ understanding and involvement with their children’s online activities. The survey reveals that 74 percent of Australian parents are oblivious to their kids’ online activities.
The Norton survey also shows that many parents are disconnected from their children’s online world and are not engaging with their children about Internet practices that can harm them both now and in the future. For example, approximately 41 percent of Australian parents surveyed never check their children’s online activities, and never discuss sexting (52 percent), cyberbullying (41 percent) or stranger danger online (37 percent).
Alarmingly about one in five (18 percent) Australian parents surveyed had been warned about their child’s social media activities by their school and approximately 15 percent of parents had admitted to having at least one child impacted by cyberbullying, while one in three children identified themselves as being impacted by cyberbullying. In addition, almost one in three (27 percent) Australian parents admitted that their young children had joined a social networking account even though they did not meet the minimum age rule.
While technologies exist today that help parents keep their children safe online, 44 percent of parents surveyed confess they never discuss using privacy settings on their children’s social networking accounts and 43 percent do not have parental controls set up on their children’s connected devices. In addition, almost one in three (29 percent) Australian parents surveyed admit to not having any rules in place about what their child can or cannot do online.”
Although this is a very small sample surveyed, it’s really frightening to think how many Australian kids might be completely unsupervised online with no guidance from their parents.
I go back to my heading…”I Thought I Was Pretty Cyber Savvy And We Were Safe…” I believe that this statement and this survey from Norton is not just as a result “head in the digital sand” parenting. The majority of parents I hear from seem loving, caring good parents who really just don’t know what they need to know about digital technology. They didn’t really consider that they actually needed to increase their understanding of the technology their children are using, in accordance with how their children are using technology NOT how they, the parents, are using it. They felt they knew enough, felt their kids access to the internet was safe enough, and didn’t think they needed any help or education further than what they understood from their own use or how they believed their children were using their technology.
Sure some parents simply don’t want to know more, they can’t deal with it, and believe that their child’s school, the police, cyber safety educators or some other fairy are doing enough to educate their kids. And besides it’s all too hard.
Yup Parenting IS Hard!
As parents we have to continue to keep up with our kids, no matter what they get into. There’s always going to be a learning curve for parents or they will get left behind, and sadly some kids will get hurt because their parents are clueless. Whether its sex education, drug and alcohol education, their technological requirements or academic studies, ignore all these important milestones at your peril. Leaving these important issues up to the “experts” is outsourcing some of the most important life issues your child will face. They also need your support and boundaries.
To keep your children safer online, you do have to understand what they are using. There is no way around it. Education, boundaries and open conversations with your children on all issues keeps your children safer online and off! You don’t have to be a cyber safety expert to keep them reasonably safe online, but you have to know enough to make their online world as safe as possible. You need to make a start!
Privacy Settings – Parental Controls
“44 percent of parents surveyed confess they never discuss using privacy settings on their children’s social networking accounts and 43 percent do not have parental controls set up on their children’s connected devices”. Many parents I talk to have never heard of putting adult content filters on their home modem, Google and YouTube Search or their children’s internet connected devices, through restrictions. Even more alarming is that many parents have no idea how easy it is for children to see graphic pornography online. I see so many comments on social media parent groups and parenting blogs from parents who use Instagram, for instance, who say they allow their very young children to use Instagram “Because they filter all the porn out” When a simple hashtag search on Instagram for some of the more common adult terms, brings up thousands of photos of intimate sexual interactions and nudity. Not to mention violence, drug use, swearing and cyber bullying. Just because they, the parents don’t search for these terms and find this content, they don’t believe it exists. But kids share those type of links, and search terms and that’s often how your child will be first exposed to it.
If parents are using social media and messaging apps they should also know where the privacy settings are and which ones they need to set particularly for their kids. Maybe the kids know about them and they can teach their parents.
How do parents find out about these settings? By talking to their child finding out what they know, and attending some form of cyber safety, digital parenting education. You can always visit one of the thousands of cyber safety digital parenting websites and start at the home page, or buy a book, but attending a talk helps you to also find out what other parents are dealing with, you will hear also from your child’s school, and hearing the advice with other parents all in the same room helps with community support.
We Can’t Just Blame The Kids If Parents Are Uninvolved And Clueless!
The biggest problem children have in the online world is their parents lack of education on cyber safety, involvement in their child’s online worlds, parental supervision and fair boundaries. Children that have none of these at home are often the ones who are being groomed online, viewing porn, or are bullying other children online.
Do I HAVE To Know MORE?
- YES! You need to know more, don’t assume you are cyber savvy, actually find out if you really are. I have many I.T teachers tell me that my talks are also an eye opener for them.
- Start engaging with your children and their online world honestly, in such a way that you don’t shut down meaningful conversation.
- Set reasonable boundaries – starting with the easiest ones, such as enforcing the age restrictions that are already set by the apps your child may be using. 13years + for all social media for instance, children simply aren’t mature enough for these adult spaces not moderated by responsible adults.
- Learn how to use parental controls when you have to. Find out where the privacy settings are for all the apps you use, AND the ones your children use.
But, I Do Supervise
If you allow your younger child free range on the internet and adult social media apps because you are sitting right next to them, I hope all your child’s contacts and friends online also have their parents sitting right next to them 100% of the time. Because there is nothing any parent can do to take back a shocking photo or link to a pornographic website once their child has seen it, with you sitting right there next to them. There is nothing a parent sitting next to their child whilst they are on Facebook can do, to prevent their child’s post going viral because of what is done to that post, or said about that post. The maturity of your child and their friends is also vital to help prevent your child being hurt online. Pushed too soon into the adult online world and kids can be traumatised and badly hurt.
- How mature are your child’s friends?
- Do you know all the parents?
- Can you contact every parent and get help and support from them if needed?
- What can you do, if your child’s post ends up with 100’s of nasty comments?
- How will your child react?
Maturity, trust and education are all vital to keep our children safe online. Parents need to be involved and need to make sure they know enough to keep their children safer online. There ARE safer options for children to connect with their friends online other than Instagram, Facebook or Kik Messenger. What are they? Are you sure about their safety? Find out!
Attend a cyber safety talk, find out if there’s something you missed, there might be something that will make a difference to your child’s wellbeing and experience online. Don’t wait until your child is hurt before you find out you really needed to know more!
If your child’s school hasn’t had me out for a talk, suggest they do! I cover all these issues and a lot more. See my cyber safety step by step manual “Keeping Kids Safe Online” for all the latest parental controls, privacy settings and adult content filters.
Click To Download My Brochure: Raising Responsible Digital Citizens Book Me! Print it off and give it to your child’s school.
More information here about Norton’s survey results