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Online Safety

Online Safety

As a parent, and manager of an online social business, I often have parents ask me how they can protect their kids online. It is a question I love being asked because there is this increasing gap in understanding between parents and children when it comes to technology and the internet. Being asked means that the parents want to actively increase their knowledge about the internet and become empowered to better help protect their children.

Today, an excellent initiative was launched across Australia to help bridge this information gap between parents, teachers and carers and young people called ThinkUKnow. It brings together resources and knowledge from the Australian Federal Police, ninemsn and Microsoft. ThinkUKnow sets up grass roots forums within school communities to educate parents, teachers and carers about online safety, what the risks are, where children are vulnerable and what they as adults can do to help.

The main message within ThinkUKnow - and what I find myself telling parents time and time again is education. Parents and children have a lot to teach one another. Children know technology. They are not frightened of teaching themselves how to use a new gadget, work a computer program or game or navigate a website. Parents have wisdom and experience. They have their instincts, common sense and their life experience, all of which help them make informed decisions.

So, how does this apply to online? In the offline world, parents teach their children daily about the risks of strangers. They teach their kids to use precaution when crossing the road. They have a level of supervision when their kids are playing with their friends in the backyard. They lock the front door and don’t let in strangers. They tell them to stay away from areas or objects that can hurt them. So why should the online world be any different?

Here are some of my tips that I use at home when my kids are online.

1. Keep the computer somewhere visible in the home, such as the living room, rather than a bedroom or playroom.

2. Learn about technology – set up your own accounts so you are familiar with how the different services work. Know the differences between an instant message, a chat room, a profile page and a tweet. Get interested.

3. Know your kids online. Review the online instant messenger profile that your child has set up and ensure that no personal information can be made public. Know your children's online computer name and what instant messaging programs they use. Ask questions.

4. Know who your children are friends with online. Just like in the offline world you would get to know your children’s friends and who they are spending time with. The same applies with the online world.

5. Know what family safety software is available and would best suit your family. For example Windows Live Messenger has safety settings that help parents keep track of their children’s conversations. These are widely and easily accessible for you.

6. Look out for signs you child is being bullied and know where you can get help. Resources like www.Windowslive.com.au/safety and www.thinkyouknow.org.au are there to help.

Here is what I tell my kids (and anyone else that’ll listen!):

1. Do not accept people you don’t know as friends on Windows Live Messenger, and never meet someone in person who you have only met online.

2. Delete contacts you don’t know, or people who are misusing the service. If someone accepts an invitation from a person they don’t know, it’s very easy to then block that person so they can no longer contact them by selecting ‘Block Contact’ in the Windows Live Messenger contact list. This means that you will never show up as available on that blocked contacts list – they’ll just think you’re always offline.

3. Keep your personal details personal. Do not put your address, phone number or other personal details on display.

4. Talk to a parent or teacher. If someone says something to you on Windows Live Messenger that makes you uncomfortable, then speak to someone you can trust about it, like a parent, sibling or teacher.

5. Do not encourage bullying.

As the pace of technological change continues to increase, and technology becomes more entrenched in day to day life, increasing your understanding, awareness and use of all technologies will allow to you better protect your kids online. I also believe that it will enable you to realise the advantages of these technologies and who knows, maybe even have a closer relationship with your kids!

If you want to know more, I encourage you to look at ThinkUKnow and request that some trained volunteers come and speak to your school about this topic.

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