How to stay safe online during COVID-19

Australian eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman-Grant, provides advice to parents about online safety as thousands of students now learn from home.

Image: Julie Inman-Grant suggests parents be more engaged in their children’s online lives.

Ms Inman-Grant said parents need “to be alert without being alarmed” and follow online safety guidelines, such as having devices in open areas of the home, setting limits on technology activities for pleasure, and being more aware of children’s online lives.

“Even before COVID-19 happened, 95% of Australian parents told us that they found online safety the most challenging parenting issue that they had to deal with and, of course, our parents didn't have to deal with this extra layer of complexity,” she said.

Ms Inman-Grant told Secretary Mark Scott on the Every Student Podcast that the mass movement across the nation to learning from home also gave parents a chance to get on the same page as their kids.

“It’s a great opportunity for parents to be more engaged in their kids' online lives – co-view, co-play, see what they're doing, download new apps with them, help them set up the privacy settings, maybe use parental controls so when you can't be there, you can at least monitor and see how much time they're spending online,” she said.

Social media was a way of life for young people and a key communication platform for engaging with friends but it was “tricky to navigate” and not without its dangers.

“There's a lot of the peer pressure that they're experiencing today to conform or live up to that curated rock star version of oneself, even the impact that this has on body image and self-esteem,” Ms Inman-Grant said.

Parents need to look for signs of cyberbullying in light of a 40% increase in online bullying since the outbreak of the pandemic, which included a 21% increase in youth-based cyberbullying.

The risk of young people being contacted online by strangers, including pedophiles, was higher worldwide when “literally hundreds of millions of kids [are] sitting at home, spending a lot of time online, often unsupervised”. The eSafety Commission estimates that one in four teenagers are contacted online by a stranger.

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