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Real Conversations: How can kids stay safe online?

Father and daugther with laptop at home

Like it or not, the internet is a major part of ours, and our kids’ lives. Our children spend time on the web for study, entertainment and to keep in touch with friends and family, so it’s vital that they know about the dangers of the internet, as well as its benefits.

The Real Concerns Index highlighted that exposure to online dangers is one of the biggest concerns that parents have. The study found that most Australian parents are worried about fraud and scams (73.6%), online bullying (73.4%) and online predators that might target our kids (72.6%).

Since we’re clearly concerned about it, let’s start a Real Conversation about staying safe online. Here’s how to chat to your kids about staying safe online.

This is part 1 in the Real Conversations series where we talk about how to open up and talk about the issues that are important to Australian families.

Avoid fear-based messages

There’s been so much research into whether or not scare tactics actually work in terms of putting a child onto the right path. Whether it’s about drugs and alcohol, bullying, pornography or falling victim to an online predator, the results are in: classic scare-tactics such as stranger danger don’t work.

However, worse than using scare tactics to appeal to children and teenagers is avoiding addressing challenging topics altogether. It’s important to discuss distressing content, such as the risk of online bullying, and the prevalence of child predators on social media – think of it as a learning experience for your child. In this way, don’t be judgmental and try to answer their questions as honestly and openly as possible. In many cases, butting in when they are talking can have a detrimental effect on kids’ mental health and overall wellbeing.

Some simple tips include:

  • Staying calm, even if your child’s emotions get the better of them during the discussion.
  • Do your research beforehand so you are armed with all the information you need.
  • Have a look at government websites such as the eSafety website.

Education and experience are key

Education is the key to helping your children spot an unsafe situation. Installing and setting up privacy settings might be something you’re confident with, or it might take a bit of research. There are dial a geek services available in most states and territories of Australia that can help with the basics, just search “home IT support” or similar. Once you’re skilled up, show your kids how the tech operates and give them a quick lesson on what it is and how it works. Paint the advantages of online safety as a positive, not as something you’re doing to over-monitor or punish them.

Start a regular conversation with them about online safety. Better yet, work together and help them be safer when online by:

  • Showing them where to find and how to use sites like Hoax-Slayer.
  • Explaining how privacy settings work, especially on their personal devices.
  • Encouraging them to speak to you if they are worried about scams or online predators. Within reason, it may be appropriate to monitor their social media activities. Remember, this needs to be consensual and open monitoring. Your kids will need to understand that you as parents will have access to monitor them should the occasion arise.
  • Share news stories and recent reports about some of the negatives consequences of being online (such as bullying, cyber threats, accidental purchases and sign-ups etc.).
  • If your child is young, parental settings can be very useful.

Without your support and guidance, your children will find out what is and isn’t appropriate on their own or from their peers. 

If you find that your child is engaging in unsafe practices online, avoid the temptation to enact a blanket ban on internet use and their mobile devices. Moderating their behaviour is always a better solution than banning something outright.

Create a family media plan

It’s important to set boundaries to ensure that your kids understand the power of the online world – and the dangers that lurk beneath the surface. A good way to avoid online threats is to create a family media plan. This might involve:

  • Managing hours spent online: The Real Insurance Kids and Technology report found that 86% of Australian parents said usage of technology has been increasing in their homes. So, designate your children a set number of free hours on the internet every week. They can use up that time whenever they want (within reason) but be sure to enforce the rules when their hours are up.
  • Keeping the computer in a common area: This will help make all online activity transparent and encourage your kids to ask questions whenever you are nearby.
  • Nominating screen-free spaces: As entertaining as screens can be, kids need socialisation and outdoor time for their overall development. Make sure certain rooms and outdoor areas are places where there are no screens allowed – including smartphones!

The internet is a fantastic tool when used appropriately, but there are risks to getting online. Start the conversation early with your kids so everyone can stay safe and get the most out of the internet.

We all want to protect our families (and let’s face it, we always want the best for our kids). Real Family Life Cover might give you extra peace of mind. Family Life Cover is a life insurance policy that is flexible enough to include you, your partner and your dependent children aged 2–17 years under the same policy. Read more about our Family Life Cover FAQs here.

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