Keeping young people safe online and encouraging responsible behaviour is an ongoing priority.
As part of my professional development work with school communities, I often present the following analogy when it comes to cyber safety: Consider the humble swimming pool in the backyard and how it might possibly relate to what we know and understand about the Internet and online safety.
While we adults have been watching from the sidelines, or gently and gradually dipping our toes into the Internet, young people have dived fearlessly into engaging online, and are having a wonderful time exploring all it has to offer.
However, adults are somewhat more cautious before jumping into water. They want to know how deep the water is, how cold, how clean, who is watching, who is supervising, are there flotation devices, and how strong a swimmer they are. So, in keeping with this analogy, what does this mean for cyber safety?
Safety around the pool generally involves a range of options, all of which are important for all members of the community using it. These include swimming lessons, emergency first aid education, cleanliness of the water, sets of rules, a fence, rescue devices, parental supervision and decision making.
Firstly, we might consider the pool fence. This is a legislated requirement for all household pools in most states and serves the purpose of keeping children safely away from the water and possible drowning. What types of fences could be used to keep young people safe in an online environment?
Around every pool, there should also be rescue devices. Such items as flotation rings, ropes and paddles can all be used for this purpose. In terms of cyber safety, rescue devices might be the education programs offered by the ACMA through www.cybersmart.gov.au, or the report buttons that appear on social networking sites, or the help offered by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy at: http://www.dbcde.gov.au/online_safety_and_security/cybersafetyhelpbutton_download.
The role of parenting around pools is paramount. Parents need to guide young children as they learn how to swim and dive safely, and to take increasing responsibility for their behaviour around the pool.
The role of parents in ensuring cyber safety cannot be underestimated. Setting developmentally appropriate boundaries in terms of Internet usage, and resisting pressure from their children and teenagers to buy them the latest phone before knowing what it is capable of are good starting points.
Parents learning about the online environment, together with their children, and guiding them in ethical online behaviour is all part of parenting ‘through the screen’. Applying the same parenting parameters to their children as they would offline, and providing them with the knowledge of how to protect themselves and act responsibly, is the best Internet filter for their protection.
Key words from the Australian Institute of Family Studies which help capture the message of safety and the responsibility of adults are : monitor, protect, teach, learn and report.
Nancy Willard’s work on cyber-savvy teens is useful here (See: http://www.cskcst.com/). She raises the notion that there are different types of young people online: The savvy ones, who have the information they need to make good decisions about their online activities; the naïve, who perhaps need a bit more education to keep themselves safe online; the vulnerable, who may be going through some relationship problems at home or at school and therefore seek online help or association with others online; and the at-risk group, who may have mental health issues or are seriously disengaging from friends, school, families and society.
There are many resources which can assist and support everyone to become more active in the quest for cyber safety. Here are just a few: http://www.dbcde.gov.au/easyguide/social_networking;
This comprehensive clearing house is the result of 15 years’ work by Ann Bubnic. While not Australian, it provides access to a wealth of resources:
Dr. Barbara Spears is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, University of South Australia. She has led the Australian Government investigation
into Covert Bullying: Insights into the Human Dimension of Covert Bullying, and is a member of the evaluation team for KidsMatter, a national, mental health initiative in primary schools.
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