How to keep kids safe online when learning from home

Living Well | Clare Barry | Posted on 04 August 2020

Keep your kids cyber safe at home with these expert tips for online learners.

As remote learning and other social-distancing measures mean young people are spending more and more time online, cyber safety experts warn it is important to be extra vigilant about protecting children from harm.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to affect the way we live back in March, the eSafety Commissioner noted a 40 per cent hike in reports of cyber bullying, ‘harmful and illegal content’ and image-based abuse. And for the month of June, cyber-bullying complaints were up more than 150 per cent on the same time last year.

Cyber security

 

“Given unsupervised access by young people, with parents distracted because they’re working, it’s almost a given we’d expect some of these behaviours to increase,” says the Commissioner’s education and training manager, Kellie Britnell. “And with some of the criminal behaviour, offenders have got more time on their hands and more live-streaming ability for adults to follow young people’s accounts.”

The increase in cyber bullying is no surprise either. “For those kids who are generally vulnerable at school, this might be an opportunity for someone to exploit that vulnerability because they think they’re not being seen by anyone – who’s going to follow me up, Mum and Dad aren’t going to, and how’s school going to follow me up? I’m not at school.”

Kellie’s tips for keeping your kids safe while schooling from home


 

Check privacy and security settings 

Adjust the privacy settings on apps, games, social media and video-conferencing tools so your child’s profiles are set to the strictest privacy setting, and check the safety and security settings on anything that’s newly downloaded. 

Video conferencing: Who can see them? 

If using video-conferencing, young people should think about what they’re wearing. “If they’re using video functionality it means people can see them and we don’t always know who has access to that at the other end,” Kellie says. Some video-conferencing tools might allow users to blur the background or enable a different background so you’re not “inviting people into a young person’s bedroom”. 

Is video really necessary?

Consider whether video functionality is necessary, or can your child get sufficient instruction via audio. Most video conferencing allows audio and chat.  

Get to know your video-conferencing settings 

Teachers should be familiar with a video-conferencing tool’s settings. Some allow users to lock a virtual meeting to prevent uninvited people from joining, and you can disable functionality that you don’t need or see as a potential problem. For instance teachers can remove students from a meeting after it’s finished so they don’t come back two hours later and find they’re looking into someone’s bedroom or hearing what’s going on in a house.  

Contact school if something feels wrong 

If something coming into your home from school feels off or inappropriate, get in touch. “Don’t be complacent that schools have got this down pat, because they’re trying to work it out like the rest of us and might not have safety at the forefront of what they’re doing.” 

Set expectations for online behaviour 

“You might think, ‘oh they know how I expect them to behave’, but you actually have to be explicit,” Kellie says. This might mean telling them to remove themselves from a conversation where someone is being abusive or hurtful, calling out the bad behaviour or comforting the targeted person.  

Use parental controls and safe search options

Parental controls can help block your child from accessing specific websites, apps or functions. They can also monitor your child’s use of connected devices and set time limits. You cannot rely on these 100 per cent, so use them with other online safety strategies.

Play in their world 

Co-view and co-play with your kids so you can get to know their online world. Right now, while we’re spending more time than usual at home, could be a perfect opportunity to do this.  Know the apps, games and social media sites your kids are using, making sure they are age-appropriate, and learn how to limit messaging or online chat and location-sharing functions within apps or games, as these can expose your child to unwanted contact and disclose their physical location. 

Put onus on the child 

If a child or teenager is keen on a new app or tool, get them to research it and ‘sell’ it to you. “Tell them you’ll be asking them what they know about the privacy settings, how they’re going to interact with people, whether unknown people can just join in or take part in conversations,” says Kellie. “It puts the onus back on them, but then you can make a joint decision as to why or why not you’re going to allow it.” 

Cyber-bullying: the signs

A child might not tell you they are being bullied online because they worry it will make things worse for them, or that they’ll lose access to their device. Signs to look for include being upset after using their laptop or phone or secretive about their time online, becoming withdrawn, anxious or angry, or a decline in their school work or physical health. The eSafety Commissioner has advice for parents worried their child is being bullied, or that their child is bullying others.

‘We’re here to help’ 

The eSafety Commissioner has three investigative teams working in cyber bullying, ‘harmful and illegal content’ and image-based abuse. It can act on a young person’s behalf in serious cyber-bullying cases, any Australian can anonymously report harmful and illegal content to it, and it has civil penalty powers when it comes to image-based abuse.

“If you get targeted and think ‘I don’t know how to stop this, where do I go’ our big mantra is we’re here to help,” Kellie says. “It’s good that people know about us before they get to the pointy end.”      



Online safety resources

The eSafety Commissioner has a wealth of free online resources to help students, parents and schools. It includes tips for staying safe online during the Covid-19 pandemic and specific advice and resources for parents, educators, children and young people.

It also has a series of free teacher professional learning webinars for educators. Titled ‘Online risks and protective factors’, the sessions will be held until early October, with new content including how to address unwanted contact, cyberbullying and inappropriate content.