What your New Years' resolution should be for 2020
Around this time of the year, people start to make the traditionally new years resolutions, "this year I'm going to give up cigarettes" or "this year I'm going to lose weight and get fit" "get more me time" etc. there are a myriad of different resolutions people pick up. But I want to give you one other to consider, which one might argue is the more important than any of the others I've just mentioned.
"this year i'm going to get cyber educated and teach my kids to be safe online"
Its one not often thought about but is absolutely crucial if you have children. I've been engaged numerous times by different law enforcement bodies to speak at community safety events they are hosting, to try and get the cyber safety and "Cyber Parenting" messages across. I've met mums and dads who have spoken of horific cyber bullying which resulted in the death of their child, and in one case children (multiple) due to suicide. These conversations are always difficult, especially for them, but for me also, especially as I have young kids and couldn't imagine what they have gone through. In all these stories the theme is the same, "if only I had known what to look out for", "if only I had done this or that". In this blog I wanted to give you some tips on how to Cyber Parent and ensure that your kids are safe online.
Firstly you need to be mindful that any child who is internet connected can:
Experience cyber bullying
Be exposed to inappropriate, illegal or harmful content
Be at risk from contact with unwanted strangers, like grooming and stalking
Unknowingly or deliberately share personal information without realising the risks
Leave behind an online footprint that might not reflect well on them in the future.
I know it sounds simple, but the communication lines need to be opened first. Discuss with your child(ren) the risks from being online, how they should and shouldnt be using Social Media, how to restrict their online profiles, the rules around certain platforms and rules for device and internet usage and also ensure you cover;
Too much online time
And most importantly what can and should be done, when they experience negative online interactions like bullying, grooming and online predators. They need to feel comfortable and know you can be approached when it comes to online issues.
The esafety commissioner has a large amount of great information on Cyber Parenting and a bunch of other topics accessible at: https://www.esafety.gov.au/
Let me tell you a real story to help you understand why this is important for children of all ages.
I was approached today by a parent whose child was upset because they were being bullied via the app TikTok. Lets call the child being bullied Jane. Now TikTok (https://www.esafety.gov.au/key-issues/esafety-guide/tiktok) used to be called musical.ly, and is used to share short videos up to 60 seconds.
Jane is 10, and is being bullied by other students in her class that are the same age via the app, originally the bullying had started in the yard and the school are supposedly aware of bullying via certain apps, but haven't done a whole lot it seems, as the girls just moved to an online forum for the bullying instead of the yard, which is sadly the way its done these days.
Jane had blocked the 2 girls doing the bullying on the app and they had blocked her too and Jane now has a restricted profile. Now all that is great, and TikTok do have some good resources around safety available from here: https://www.tiktok.com/safety/resources.
But this doesn't address a few underlying issues.
Firstly, the girl getting bullied is still seeing the cyber bullying content via her friends showing her, so even though she cant see it directly, all of her friends are seeing it and everyone else using the platform, and they are showing her too so its not preventing the bullying, its just made it indirect bullying.
The bullies are still seeing the video's posted by Jane via connected friends, similar to facebook and other platforms, they cant see Jane's video's directly but can through the other friends profiles and people liking and sharing content, which they have been doing. They have been screenshotting, pasting comments on the screenshots and re-sharing.
Third issue, what the hell is a 10 year old doing posting videos online and being on TikTok in the first place? Reviewing TikTok's usage policies the platform is actually designed for 13+ which means that technically, unless you live in the US and are using the 'childrens profile' in Tiktok you are not even supposed to be using the platform as its a breach of their terms of service and community guidelines.
The last issue of course is education, Jane's mum acknowledged that Jane isnt really aware of the risks around cyber bullying and online risks.
So what actions did I take? Firstly I've educated mum, so she can sit down with Jane and explain the risks to her and make sure she is not posting any more videos or content. Secondly I've hooked her up with a parental control app like qustudio (https://www.qustodio.com/en/) or netnanny (https://www.netnanny.com/) and advised her to block access to the app and implement device restrictions. I've reached out to tiktok via email@example.com and advised them of the bullying happening and that the bullies are under 13 and not in the US and as such are in violation of the terms of service and to take appropriate action on the accounts. Lastly I've advised the parent to reach out to the school advise them of the situation and tee up a parents night for someone like myself to come down and give the parents a cyber education session.
I think what astounded me the most about this issue was that Jane was 10! I would expect this kind of behaviour from teenagers but these kids are in primary school, so its safe to say the risks from bullying stemms the second they are internet connected.
As mentioned above educate your kids (and yourselves) about what they should and shouldn't be doing and what to do when it comes to cyber bullying and other risks. For cyber bullying what you need to do:
Listen and ensure they feel supported, most importantly keep calm
Collect details of the cyberbullying material. You might need to do this before you report it to the site or platform. A simple way to collect this information is by taking a photo or screenshot or copying the URL.
Report the cyberbullying material to the social media service where it happened. Social media services should remove any cyberbullying material that has been reported. Most social media services have a reporting area on their website. For example: https://www.facebook.com/help/reportlinks/
The esafety commissioner has a great page covering all the links and contact details to report cyber bullying to various social media services and game platforms. You can access it here: https://www.esafety.gov.au/complaints-and-reporting/cyberbullying-complaints/social-media-services-safety-centres
If the cyber bullying contains threats of violence, child pornography or sending sexually explicit messages or photos, taking a photo or video of someone in a place of privacy or stalking and hate crimes, this needs to be reported to the police / local law enforcement
Report the cyberbullying to their school. Most schools have policies to handle cyber bullying incidents and bullying in general, usually they form one in the same, they should also assist you with strategies for prevention and response.
Report the cyberbullying to an online support and reporting body, for Australia and New Zealand it’s the Office of the Esafety Commissioner, Stopbullying.gov for the US, Local police and bullying UK for the United Kingdom.
Block and unfriend the person, make sure you take down the URL’s of the content and take screenshots or recording of the content first.
Don’t retaliate, retaliating only makes it worse and in a lot of circumstances that’s what the cyber bully wants your child to do.
Get Support. If your child shows changes in behaviour or mood, is distressed or depressed you should seek professional help through a counselling support service.
For Australia and New Zealand – Kids HelpLine
For the United Kingdom – ChildLine
For the US – Your Life, Your Voice
For all countries, worldhelplines has a comprehensive list available here: http://worldhelplines.org/
Make sure your child is aware of Stranger Danger and that the 9 year old girl they are talking to on facebook, may in fact be a 40 year old man. It’s important that you ensure that they never meet anyone they have met from the internet, unless they have a parent or trusted adult with them.
Sexting and Nudes
Ensure your child is aware that they should never ever post sensitive photos about themselves or others online or other information that may not reflect well on them in the future.
The risks from Sexting and Sending Nude pics (‘nudes’) are obvious:
Anything you post online is there forever
When relationships fail, there is a risk of the messages being shared publicly
They may be sent to someone by mistake or via peer pressure and can then be shared without your child’s consent by the recipient(s)
If their phone is stolen or lost and the images are used in blackmail attempts or posted online.
Sexting can result in serious consequences, like criminal charges and penalties, through to victimisation, blackmailing, online bullying and of course humiliation.
Teach your child to say no when nudes are requested and what the risks are from sexting. If images are posted online, report them immediately to the social media platform or service and work with the cyber bullying reporting bodies outlined in the cyber bullying section above to have them removed and action taken against the individual(s).
Unwanted contact and grooming is common across social media platforms. Its defined as contact via online communication that your child feels uncomfortable or confronting when engaged in. The goal of the groomer is to build a relationship with a child in order to exploit them via sexual activity on webcams, sexting, sending sexual images and even in person abuse, such as sexual assault (but not as common as online).
It’s not always strangers who instigate the communication (although they are the majority), it can also come from online friends, friends of friends they have never met online, or someone they know. You should ensure that:
They have kept their social media accounts as private
They are only connecting with people that they know
Ignore requests from strangers to follow or connect if they do not know them
Periodically review and clean-up their friends list, if they don’t know them they should be removed
Teach them how to restrict visibility on their posts to friends only
Let them know they can speak to you or ask for help if something doesn’t feel right and they are being asking to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Often children will feel like they will get in trouble or be judged or access revoked by the parent if they talk to them about it, you need to reassure them this is not the case.
Ensure that they do not meet anyone in person they have met online without an adult.
Any unwanted communication should be blocked and reported
Teach your child about the signs to look out for, like a new friend asking them personal questions very soon after connecting online, asking if parents or anyone else is around, what room they are in, if they can send a picture(s) or video, and asking for favours.
Look out for the Warning Signs
Often children will not tell their parents if they are being bullied so we need to look out for the signs ourselves. Some of these signs apply to normal bullying as well.
Changes in personality, depressed, sad, anxious, lashing out or angry
Upset or angry after using their mobile phone or accessing the internet
Sleep issues and decline in health
Distressed or lonely and changes in friendship groups unexpectantly.
Avoidance of school or social activities
School work and/or behaviour issues
Your child may turn off their device or monitor when you come into the room
You may find inappropriate images, emails or apps on their mobile devices or computer
Behavioural changes like becoming withdrawn
Your child makes or receives phone calls from strangers or receives mail or gifts
Monitor and Control
You should be ensuring that you are using Parental Control software on your children's devices. I mentioned Qustudio and Netnanny earlier but there are a lot of others.
This software provides the ability to:
Set Screen Time limits on devices
Set Restrictions on Apps or block certain categories or apps
Set Social Media Restrictions and Monitoring
Set search and content restrictions
Web site category restrictions
Call and SMS monitoring and blocking
Panic or help button
You should receive daily alerting and reports on usage and restrict the types of apps and functions based on their age and the limitations/rules you have in your household. Use this software to force searches via Google Safe Search instead of standard search and to force the use of YTKids instead of Youtube and restricting calls and SMS's.
Use Resources and Learn
As a parent, learn about the apps they are using, an example might be something as simple as roblox/Minecraft they might seem like a safe app, but did you know that adults can still contact children in these apps via the chat functionality? Make sure you know what to do if they experience cyber issues online, leverage the resources I've discussed earlier and stay abreast of the latest risks facing your children online.
The above is only a snippet of the information available via my book so grab yourself a copy to cover all of the above as well as other cyber safety and cyber parenting guidance: https://www.amazon.com.au/Hack-Proof-Yourself-essential-securing-ebook/dp/B07W48RFT6
If the above guidance prevents just one child from committing suicide in 2020 due to cyber bullying then my job is done.
Here's to a safe 2020.