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Even in the safety of their home, there are many risky places a child or teenager can visit online. This can be due to the content they see, who they come into contact with, and personal information they share.
Rapid developments in technology mean that most Australian children are introduced to the Internet before they even start school, and by the time they are teenagers, 78% of young Australians are regularly online and 80% are using a smartphone.
By age 15-17, nearly all Australian adolescents access the Internet for personal use on a weekly basis, and they are particularly likely to visit social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube).
While cyberspace offers many advantages, including opportunities for learning, socialisation and entertainment, young people are at risk of making poor decisions about the information they access and share online. This can include personally identifying material (e.g. school, phone number, address) and inappropriate or provocative content including images.
Young people may underestimate the risks of sharing such information online, particularly with strangers, and they may not realise how difficult it is to remove something from the Internet once it has been posted.
Cyberbullying is an issue of particular concern to young people and their families Feedback from 30,000 children and teenagers has informed our researchers that cyberbullying causes a great deal of humiliation and harm, particularly when embarrassing images or videos are shared online. Cyberbullying has a lasting effect on young people's self-esteem and mental health. They may nevertheless avoid telling their parents about such experiences, due to fear that their access to the Internet and mobile devices will be taken away.
Young people's involvement in sexting, the sharing of sexually explicit material, is also concerning. While it's illegal in WA to possess, transmit or store nude photos of a person aged under 16, there is evidence that sexting is increasing in prevalence and beginning at increasingly younger ages. About a quarter of teenagers are believed to have sent nude or semi-nude images or videos of themselves via an electronic medium.
When such behaviours come to the attention of parents, schools, peers and the authorities, there can be serious social, academic and legal consequences. Young people should be aware that child pornography charges can be laid even if all those involved gave their consent.
What can parents do to keep kids safe online?
Parents can help to prevent harm by reminding their daughters and sons of the potential social, academic, employment and legal implications of posting inappropriate material of themselves or others online.
Some suggestions for keeping children and teens safe online are:
Encourage children to use technology in positive ways (e.g. learning, supporting others)
Encourage children to set strong passwords and not to share them
Place devices in communal areas so you can keep an eye on your child's activity
Don't allow your children to use mobile devices in bedrooms, particularly after bedtime
Learn about social media and encourage your children to show you how to use them
Know where your children are going online and who they are talking to
Google your child's name every two months, and encourage them to do the same
Make a written agreement with your child about online behaviours that are acceptable and unacceptable.
* Reports can be made directly to the Australian Federal Police about abuse or illegal activity online using the online child sex exploitation form. Parents can also click on the Report Abuse button on the ThinkuKnow website
Our research impact
Our researchers are working to empower children to use technology more positively, to prevent problems and harms from arising.
A three-year partnership between Telethon Kids and Bankwest has led to the development of Beacon, a personalised, evidence-based cyber safety app.
Beacon is designed specifically for parents as an individually tailored one-stop-shop source of reliable, trustworthy information about digital risks and threats facing kids such as online grooming, cyber bullying and stalking. It personalises content for parents with alerts to the latest cutting-edge information and strategies, tailored to match family profiles based on children’s ages, areas of interest and devices.