Young Australians are embracing technology more than ever. No longer are their interactions with their friends and peers limited to the schoolyard or restricted by the time spent inside a classroom, playing sport, attending birthday parties – they are connected to one another like never before.
Ownership and access to various forms of technology and the Internet is increasing at an exponential rate. A recent report by the Australian Media and Communications Authority, Like, post, share: Young Australians’ experience of social media (2013), revealed that the vast majority of 8–17 year olds are online, and that their likelihood of accessing the Internet increases significantly with age.
According to the report, most children will use a home computer to access the Internet and around 75 percent also access it at school. Around 50 percent of teenagers aged between 14 and 17 years access the Internet from their mobile phones, and around two in five children aged 8–11 years use other mobile devices to access the Internet. Not only are they well-connected through a range of devices, but being online has a significant role in a young person’s life too, with around two thirds of 10–13 year olds and 80 percent of teenagers describing the Internet as being very important to them (ACMA, 2013).
For most children and young people, the Internet is a positive experience, and in a world where a level of digital literacy is essential in most job roles, encouraging children and young people to become familiar and comfortable with technology is beneficial for their futures. However, it is important that this positive encouragement is carefully balanced with making them aware of the risks involved, particularly around their privacy, cyberbullying and online grooming. Alarmingly, around one in five 12 to 17-year-old Internet users have seen something that bothered them online (ACMA, 2013). Teachers or supervisors in the digital age have an important role in educating students about how to use the Internet safely and responsibly, and what to do if something upsets them, to help make the online world a positive place for them to grow and learn.
Children and young people use technology to engage in the same activities they always have – to communicate with their friends, play games and build a sense of identity. As with most things, the activities children enjoy doing change with age and online activities are no exception. While younger children primarily use the Internet to play games or do their homework, teenagers are spending much of their time social networking and listening to music.
From secondary school onwards, there is an expectation that children and young people will engage with their peers through social networking (ACMA, 2013); this includes their immediate friends, but also people they may not personally know. Social media is one of the primary ways they communicate to one another, share their interests, broaden their relationships and also build their social identity. Social media has introduced a level of socialisation not experienced by generations before, which can make it difficult for adults to understand the effect it can have on young people and their relationships.
The Cybersafety Challenge
The Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) Cybercrime Prevention team identifies three key areas of challenge for young people when it comes to using technology – privacy, relationships and reputation management.
When it comes to privacy, AFP Cybercrime Prevention Project Officer Mel Sevil said the focus is not only on young people protecting their personal information now, but also on being aware of their digital shadow – the online information about them which builds over time and remains permanent. “Children and young people appear aware of the risks to their immediate privacy, but tend to underestimate the implications of information that has been posted previously,” Ms Sevil said.
Relationships can be just as challenging online as they are in the offline world and young people have to manage these with not only their friends and enemies, but often with complete strangers. “Online relationships can potentially expose children and young people to more serious issues occurring such as cyberbullying, online grooming and sexting. It’s critical that if an adult is going to allow a child access to the Internet, that they are aware of the prevalence of these issues and what they can do to prevent and how to report to the appropriate authorities if a child is harmed.”
All Internet users need to be aware of how the information they share online affects their reputation, as well as their personal relationships. For students particularly, what they do or say online may also impact their current and future schooling and employment opportunities and they should try to leverage the Internet as a way to promote their skills and abilities.
“As an educator, you may feel a lack of understanding about the technology, apps and websites young people are using can make it difficult to teach them safe and ethical ways to behave online. Parents and teachers however are well-positioned to guide and supervise children’s online activities and they can strengthen their influence with teenagers by making sure their knowledge of the Internet and the popular sites and activities they are using is current and relevant.”
When it comes to safeguarding children, there are many strategies schools can adapt and these often work best when delivered in collaboration with parents so that children are receiving consistent messaging at home and school in relation to their online behaviour. These strategies can include technical actions, such as applying parental controls to devices or setting limits to the time they spend online, and behavioural actions, such as talking to children about their use and being a positive online role model.
About ThinkUKnow Australia
ThinkUKnow Australia is a partnership between the AFP, Microsoft Australia, Datacom and the Commonwealth Bank that aims to raise awareness among parents, carers and teachers of how young people are using technology, the challenges they may face and how to help them navigate these challenges in a safe and ethical way.
The ThinkUKnow cybersafety program is delivered in collaboration with policing partners the New South Wales Police Force, Northern Territory Police, Queensland Police Service, South Australia Police, Tasmania Police and Western Australia Police, along with Neighbourhood Watch Australasia.
ThinkUKnow was originally developed in the United Kingdom by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, and has been adapted to recognise the sites, applications and devices that young Australians like to use, as well as their specific online behaviours.
Members of state and territory police agencies and representatives from industry partners make up a network of more than 500 trained volunteers who visit schools and organisations across Australia to deliver face-to-face and digital ThinkUKnow sessions to parents, teachers and carers.
How the ThinkUKnow Cybersafety Program Works
ThinkUKnow has been designed primarily to educate parents, teachers and carers about young people and technology and how to stay safe online. The objective of the program is to give adults the knowledge and skills to help them protect themselves and their family online, while also encouraging them to embrace technology into their lives just as young people are in a positive and beneficial way.
“The ThinkUKnow program is unique in that it provides valuable insight on cybersafety from both a technological and crime prevention perspective,” Ms Sevil said. “The program helps teachers and parents understand the changing role of technology in young peoples’ lives, but also the legal implications this may present, particularly when it comes to behaviours such as sexting and cyberbullying.”
This is achieved through the program’s partnerships with policing agencies and with industry leaders Microsoft, Datacom and the Commonwealth Bank, who can provide specialised knowledge and insight into the technology and devices young people are using today.
At each ThinkUKnow session, a trained volunteer from an industry partner organisation will deliver the presentation alongside a member of the AFP or participating state and territory policing partners, with time for participants to raise questions or concerns at the end.
These sessions aim to equip adults with knowledge around devices and the Internet to help them have open and honest conversations with young people about their activities online to prevent them from becoming a victim of crime. The sessions also provide teachers and parents with practical skills they can apply at school and home to make the online environment safer and to help encourage responsible use of the Internet.
The ThinkUKnow program content and resources have also been designed to meet some of the General Capabilities of the Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum, including personal and social capability, ethical understanding and information and communication technology capability, to ensure a holistic educational approach to cybersafety that is applicable to Australian schooling.
Booking a ThinkUKnow Cybersafety Session
ThinkUKnow presentations are free for all Australian schools and can be booked through the online booking tool on the website (www.thinkyouknow.org.au) or by contacting 1300 362 936 during business hours.
The ThinkUKnow website also provides a great range of additional resources for parents, including factsheets, a cybersafety guide and practical tips on protecting their family online.
We would like to thank the Australian Federal Police Cybercrime Prevention Team for their efforts in writing this article.
Australian Communications & Media Authority 2013, Like, post, share: Young Australians’ experience of social media, viewed 15 June 2015, http://www.acma.gov.au/~/media/mediacomms/Report/pdf/Like%20post%20share%20Young%20Australians%20experiences%20of%20social%20media%20Qualitative%20research%20report.pdf
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