Firstly, I thought I should explain that my family has been unpleasantly touched by cyber bullying, so this is a topic very close to my heart and something that all parents of teens or tweens need to be aware of. Thankfully, for my boys social media is usually more of a platform for chatting, arguing and gossiping amongst their friends. There was however an incident where Lachlan made an inadvertent comment which led to a group of kids from another school waiting to bash him the next day. The incident was eventually diffused but not before causing a lot of angst and loss of sleep for my son. For my niece, being the target of cyber-bullies had far worse consequences. She attempted to take her own life. Thankfully she wasn't successful but she still struggles with it, and uses social media as a means to vent her anger and frustration.
So, how can we, as parents, know what to do about social media in this age of technology and increasing use of smart phones? It is not only cyber-bullying that I am concerned about for my children. It is the cyber-predators as well, masquerading as children. Before allowing our children to have access to the internet we need to understand it ourselves, so that we can educate them and make them aware of what to look out for. We also need to educate ourselves on the signs to look for in our kids...before it's too late.
I am certainly no expert on cybersafety but the Australian Government have already done the ground work for us, and there is a trove of information on this Easy Guide to Socialising Online.It was created in response to advice from the Australia Government Youth Advisory Group on Cybersafety - a group of young Australians providing advice on cybersafety issues.
The guide provides information about the cybersafety features of different sites including social networking sites, search engines and online games. By clicking on the logos for each site, you can learn how to adjust your privacy settings, report inappropriate content and find out more about other safety features. I urge you to click on the link above and save this guide if you have children old enough to use the internet.
The other amazing thing that I never knew about is the Cybersafety Help Button. I wonder how many other parents are like me? This is an excellent idea! You download the 'button' onto your smartphone, ipad, laptop or desktop.
It provides instant online access to cybersafety information and assistance. Your child (or yourself) can click on the button and it directs you to select either TALK (Phone numbers provided for counselling ie Kids Helpline), REPORT (abuse, scams or offensive behaviour direct to the appropriate department or social media site), OR LEARN (provides further information on cybersafety). I urge all parents to fully investigate the LEARN tab. There are links to a ton of information on predators and current scams, government departments and social media sites.
I have learnt so many things that I should have known when the boys first started using social media. The major rule we have here is that they have to keep me as a 'friend' so that I can police them, and they are not allowed to block me from any content. Occasionally I will ask them to remove an inappropriate comment or a page they have liked but usually they are pretty good about it, and I learn so much about what they are up to through their comments or those of their friends.
Do you have social media in your house? If so, I am really curious to know what cybersafe measures you have adopted for yourself and/or your kids. Were you like me and unaware of all this information available to us? I would like to think I am not the only one who lives under a rock sometimes :)
Needless to say, I spent the rest of my morning installing cybersafe buttons on all our phones and computers.