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Keeping Our Kids Safe Online

By Communications Team Middle, Primary, News, Senior 28/08/2023

Originally featured in Nurture Magazine

By Fiona ClaytonHead of eLearning, Curriculum Pathways Coordinator (7—12)

Matthew 28:16-20 says in the Great Commission, “… go make disciples of all nations …”.

Jesus tells us to go out and make disciples of all nations—to spread the Word to people wherever they are. These days, people spend an increasing amount of time on laptops, tablets, and phones. And our children are among these. So how about we use technology, and teach our children how to use technology, to meet them there?

We are called to extend the message to people wherever they are, and technology allows us to do exactly that. But how do we do this safely ourselves? And more importantly, how do we teach our children to do this while remaining safe online?

The Online Safety Act 2021 (Cth) is a new legislation that makes Australia’s existing laws for online safety more expansive and much stronger. This is extremely important as the advances in technology continue to increase at a rapid pace.

One part of the new legislation is to make online service providers more accountable for the online safety of the people who use their service. This is done by providing a clear set of wide-ranging “Basic Online Safety Expectations” which are designed to help make sure online services are safer for all Australians to use.

The Act pushes the responsibility back onto service providers to take reasonable steps to be safe for their users.

Another part of the new legislation will give more power to the eSafety Commissioner (a body of the Australian Government) to proactively seek the removal of inappropriate content without the consent of the person shown. It also halves the time that online service providers have to respond to an eSafety removal notice and gives the existing “Online Content Scheme” new powers to regulate illegal and restricted content no matter where it is hosted.

If you would like to know more about the Act you can download a fact sheet or look on the Australian Government eSafety website: www.esafety.gov.au

While parents should take some comfort in the knowledge that the Australian Government is making online service providers more accountable for keeping users safe, it is still very important that parents are able to teach their children online safety and make sure they are safe when they are online.

What should we as parents be doing to ensure we are keeping our children safe online and educating them on the correct use of the apps they are using?

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, and Snapchat have become common, everyday words we hear our children say. Many parents also use these apps. Over the last 10 years,

these have become our default ways of communicating with others. We can’t ignore social media apps. So how can we teach our children to use these apps, these tools, responsibly and for God’s purpose? Because really, that’s all they are. They are tools.

We need to do our part in educating our children on using social media platforms responsibly and as a way to shine God’s light to others.

Online safety is a vast area and there are many variables to consider such as the child’s age, what app/s they are using and how they are accessing them as well as considering screen time and what they are watching. So many things are more accessible, and consumable, online than they are in person—for example, adult content and gambling. While these are big responsible things that do require us as parents to be vigilant about, we can take some easy steps to guide our children in responsible use of technology.

So, in this article, I will highlight some simple broad steps that parents can apply in their homes around the use of social media:

  1. Check the legal age of the site/app your child wishes to sign up for. Most are recommended for 13+. If they are younger, they would need a parent to sign up on their behalf. Using correct ages is especially important because Australia has specific and strict laws governing advertising to children, including through apps and online.
  2. Make sure you know your child’s login details including their password. Ensure that the child knows you know these details. Set up the account together and go through the security settings—setting the correct level of security—making sure the child understands them.
  3. Encourage the use of technology in common areas of your house rather than in private spaces.
  4. Get your child to add you as a friend in their social media app so you can see their activity.
  5. The aim of social media is not about how many “friends” totals you have. A good rule of thumb for adding a person as a friend would be, “Would I invite this person over for dinner at my house?”. If the answer is yes, then they are probably a good friend and someone you would have as a friend on social media. If the answer is no, then you probably don’t want to invite them as a friend.
  6. Stranger danger is as important online as it is in person.A good rule for posting anything online is, “How would I feel if this was shown to everyone during a school assembly?”. If they wouldn’t want it shown to everyone, then it may be something they should give more thought to before posting.
  7. Get your children to ask themselves this question before commenting on a post, “Is what I am about to write or comment on going to encourage my friends or make them smile and brighten their day? Am I showing Christ’s love by posting what I am about to post? Am I choosing kindness?”.
  8. Remind your child that whatever they post, whether it be a public comment, or a private message, cannot be fully deleted. It will always remain on computer servers around the world.

Be open and transparent with your children and encourage them to be open and transparent with you in relation to what they post and how they are interacting with their social media accounts.

Initiatives such as Dolly’s Dream were created to raise awareness of the catastrophic impacts of online bullying particularly by children and young people to each other. The initiative provides resources to parents to talk to their children about online safety including a family tech plan and resource kit to help as conversation starters.

The Australian Government has taken great steps to make online service providers more accountable, but we need to do our part in educating our children on using social media platforms responsibly and as a way to shine God’s light to others.

So don’t be afraid to allow your child access to technology. Emerging technologies need not contradict our beliefs; instead, they can actually help us spread God’s Word. Let’s help not only teach our children how to be safe online, but how to spread God’s Word to the people they are connecting with.

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