Online Safety and Protection – What is happening and how can you help?

4-10 September was National Child Safety Week in Australia and is a priority for educators, parents and family members alike. Often when adults think of child safety they think of physical, mental and emotional safety but we live in a time when a new element of child safety is essential for all parents to consider. This is the online safety of children and young people.

While phones and technological devices have allowed families and friends to be more connected and available than ever before, they have also allowed the potential exploitation of children and young people directly into house and school yards everywhere. As the pressure to provide a device to young children increases, so too do the reports and incidents of unsafe child behaviour online. After all, we are talking about children. Children are progressing through the normal stages of human development from birth to adulthood, the stages are accompanied by physical, emotional and neurological growth. The brains of children and young people (including young adults) are not yet fully developed and the notion of risk and consequence have not been completely developed. As children, they are prone to naivety and innocence because they do not consider that someone may be intentionally untrue or unkind to them. This beautiful childhood and young person innocence is the responsibility of all adults to protect.

Although this topic can be overwhelming and frightening for parents, coming from an informed position allows every parent to be empowered in supporting their child through the technology years. I have spoken to many parents in casual conversation and overwhelmingly they do not know the extent of what is happening on phones, in online chats or with children. I also know what is being reported to schools all over Australia (and beyond) about how young people are engaging with others online. For example, did you know that children and young people are approaching or have been approached by complete strangers through commonly used apps to meet in person for the exchange of illegal devices such as vapes? There have also been reports of children then being recruited to distribute these devices to other young people for a percentage share of money. Young girls are being asked in chat rooms on commonly used websites to send topless (or other private) photos to complete strangers (who they may think are friends because they have chatted with them for a short while).

Instead of providing more frightening examples and having all parents disconnect the WiFi and take phones off children until they turn 30, below are some strategies that may assist parents and young people with this challenge.

For parents

  • Think carefully about getting your child a phone in the first place. Do they really need it? Or do they need a smartphone?
  • Maintain a presence in their online activity. Read their messages and look at their apps (including the ones hidden behind innocent-looking headings or folders).
  • Stay on top of the current apps that are popular with young people, as they become desirable for predators too.
  • Talk openly to your child about sexual behaviour and about online safety — particularly in relation to talking to unknown people online. They need to know what is acceptable or appropriate and what to do when or if they feel uncomfortable.
  • Fight the good fight and keep screens out of bedrooms. Not only for their rest and relaxation but to monitor video chats/interactions online. Perhaps a device like the InCharge box may be of assistance (CGGS has no affiliation with this business).
  • Delay your child’s access to social media (eg TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat etc.) for as long as possible. A message popular in the USA is “Wait ‘til 8th”, referencing waiting until after Year 8 before allowing children to join social media.

For children and young people

  • Think about the consequences of sending private photos, even with someone you know.
  • If you are sent a photo or inappropriate message from a friend or within a chat group, do not send it on. Report it immediately to your parents, the police or to a teacher.
  • If you have not met someone in real life, do not arrange to meet up with them via an app. Your safety is important!
  • Trust your instincts about online activity — if it seems unusual or strange (which asking for nude photographs is) then don’t do it! You can say no and leave a chat or the group.
  • Allow your parents and teachers to help you. Follow their instructions and requests for when to put your phone away or if your parents wish to have a look at the content of your phone, they are allowed to.

Educate yourself – a variety of resources are below

An open invitation to hear from experts in the field

Each year at CGGS we hold talks with experts in a variety of fields, including online safety. Susan McLean is an expert we invite annually to our CGGS Parent Partnership Series to address parents about online behaviour and safety.

Office of the eSafety Commissioner

Australia has a very active e-safety commissioner who provides an amazing and practical array of support for parents, young people and educators to keep current with the e-world of children and young people. Below are some links to assist parents (of children/young people of all ages) with what is happening online and practical assistance.

Parent resources

  • A series of webinars offered on a range of topics, including popular apps for tweens and teens, online sexual harassment and digital technology and mental health
  • Advice on how to start hard conversations about online safety
  • Advice on creating a family tech agreement

Student resources

Information about keeping yourself safe online for Senior School-aged students

Information about keeping yourself safe online for Junior School-aged students

Recent news articles that provide information about this matter:

This recently published Sydney Morning Herald article may be confronting for parents to read and may be a trigger for survivors of sexual abuse.

This UK article provides insight into the methods used by some online groomers to talk to children as young as 10.

This UK article talks about research related to the impacts of social media on girls, particularly aged 11-13 years.

Seek assistance as needed - useful phone contacts for young people or family members who require assistance

(Source: “Safe & Supported. The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2021 – 2031”

Child sexual abuse support and advice

Bravehearts Support Line 1800 272 831

Links and contact details for support services for parents and carers are below:

New South Wales: Parentline NSW 1300 130 052

Australian Capital Territory: Parentline ACT (02) 6287 3833

Domestic and family violence support

1800Respect 1800 737 732

Ms Julie Jorritsma
Acting Principal