Not so long ago, parents and their children were more concerned about physical harm, rather than anything that might pose a threat electronically. Concerns were more about getting to and from school, or safely home after a party.
Threats have become more subtle as children’s access to digital devices has become more widespread. Along with the undoubted benefits of being able to access a wealth of information and keep in touch wherever they are, children can also view inappropriate information or be manipulated by unseen predators.
The good news is that as parents and responsible teenagers, we can take some fairly simple steps to minimise the risks.
If you have children in the house or have children visit regularly, put parental control features on your computers, digital television services, video games, mobile phones and software. Each of these devices require different settings, so contact your service provider or look up www.netsafe.org.nz to find out how to install them. For younger children, cell phones developed just for them are now available.
Parental controls generally consist of:
- Content filters, which limit access to age-appropriate content. These can limit content ranging from explicit songs to violent movies available online.
- Usage controls, which restrict the use of the device such as imposing time limits or prohibiting certain types of use. They can even turn off devices at certain times of day or locate a child when they should be at home.
Millions of people worldwide are connected to social media sites, such as Facebook. While it’s great to keep in touch with friends and family, you need to ensure information – especially that of your children – is seen only by those you want to see it. You also want to have some control over what other people post about you, or photos of you, on their pages.
If you’re not familiar with settings available on your social media site, get some information at www.netsafe.org.nz or search for it on your social media website. If you see offensive material, report it to your social media provider. They should respond fairly quickly and may remove it or shut down the user’s account.
Recently, Facebook pages have been set up in New Zealand that post malicious, distressing, unkind and rude comments about people – sometimes anonymously. One even rated the sexual prowess of individuals. If you want to complain about profiles, pages and other content, use the link on your Facebook page, “Report/Block this person”.
Facebook do take complaints seriously, and recently issued A Guide to Facebook Security. This guide suggests:
- Only “Friend” people you know.
- Create a secure password and use it only for Facebook.
- Don’t share your password.
- Change your password regularly.
- Share your personal information only with people and companies that need it
- Log into Facebook only once each session. If it looks like Facebook is asking you to log in a second time, skip the links and directly type www.facebook.com into your browser address bar.
- Use a one-time password when using someone else’s computer.
- Log out of Facebook after using someone else’s computer.
- Use secure browsing whenever possible.
- Only download apps from sites you trust.
- Keep your anti-virus software updated.
- Keep your browser and other applications up to date.
- Don’t paste script (code) in your browser address bar.
- Use browser add-ons like Web of Trust and Firefox’s NoScript to keep your account from being hijacked.
- Beware of “goofy” posts from anyone – even Friends. If it looks like something your Friend wouldn’t post, don’t click on it.
- Scammers might hack your Friends’ accounts and send links from their accounts. Beware of enticing links coming from your Friends.
The bullies of old would use physical force or the backing of mates to harass people in the school yard or on the street. Finding them was not difficult. The cyber bullies of today, however, often hide behind technology and can operate 24 hours a day.
By definition, cyber bullying occurs among young people. (When an adult is involved, it may meet the definition of cyber harassment or cyber stalking, a crime that can have legal consequences.) It’s using the internet, a mobile phone or other technology such as a digital camera to hurt, harass, threaten or embarrass someone.
The Law Commission says one in 10 New Zealanders have experienced what it calls “harmful communications” on the internet. That number doubles for those aged 19-29. Other research shows that one in five New Zealand college students experience some form of cyber bullying or harassment, and one in six pre-teens.
Cyber bullying can be devastating for young people. It contributes to truancy, failure at school and emotional problems such as depression, self-harm and in extreme cases, suicide. Sometimes it can be easy to spot — for example, if your child shows you a cruel text message, tweet, or response to a status update on Facebook. But often it’s less obvious, such as impersonating a victim online or posting personal information, photos, or videos.
It’s not always easy to know when your child is being cyber bullied. Many children don’t say anything because they’re embarrassed or worried that their computer or mobile will be taken away from them. However, there are some signs parents can look out for:
- Emotional distress during or after using the internet or the phone.
- Protective or secretive of their digital life.
- Withdrawing from friends and activities.
- Avoiding school or group gatherings.
- Slipping grades and getting angry at home.
- Changes in mood, behaviour, sleep, or appetite.
Advice for parents
As a parent, you need to know what’s happening in your children’s online world, and understand it as best you can. Know what devices they have, what sites they’re visiting and who they’re talking to. Talk to them about the importance of privacy and why it’s a bad idea to share personal information, even with friends.
- Tell younger children to be careful who they give their mobile number to and to not pass on friends’ numbers without asking them first.
- Remind children not to respond to texts from people they don’t know. In some cases, bullies send out random texts and wait to see who responds.
- Remind them to change passwords regularly and tell no-one what they are.
- Always think about whether something you send might make another person feel uncomfortable. Whether it’s a “joke” or something about another person, be aware that it might be taken the wrong way or sent on to someone else. If in doubt, don’t send it.
- Talk with your child about how images, if posted online or sent on a mobile phone, could get sent on to others and be used to bully or embarrass them. 10 Crime Prevention Community Safer Communities Together.
If you know cyber bullying is happening, Netsafe suggests you:
- Understand the problem. NetSafe has created a dedicated cyber bullying – www.cyberbullying. org.nz – which offers practical guidance for young people, parents and caregivers, and teachers and principals who want help to understand and deal with bullying in cyberspace.
- Block the bully. You can electronically block messages on most devices. Be aware, however, that a determined bully will simply change their electronic signature and start all over again.
- Reassure your child. If they tell you they’ve been cyber bullied, tell them they’ve done the right thing and can trust you with the problem. Don’t take away their technology (young people say the fear of losing access to their computer or mobile phone is one of the reasons they often don’t tell adults).
- Contact the police if the bullying involves physical threats or call 111 if you’re concerned about your child’s immediate safety. Making such threats is deemed to be criminal behaviour.
- Save evidence of all bullying messages and images. Save cell phone messages or log dates and times of messages and take screenshots of bullying on websites or instant messenger (IM) chats. This might help later if you report the bullying to the school or the police.
The vast majority of children today at secondary school and many primary school children carry a mobile phone. The technology of smart phones is making it easier for cyber bullies to not only send text messages, but also send or post online threatening or embarrassing images and video clips.
If you think someone at school is bullying your child, contact the principal as soon as possible. The Education Act 1998 includes National Administrative Guideline 5, which says schools are to provide a “safe physical and emotional environment for students”. This includes dealing with behaviour such as cyber bullying that occurs out of school but has implications for student well-being while at school.
Report internet cyber bullying to the website where the bullying took place. Usually there’s a “Report Abuse” button or “Safety” link. Netsafe (www.netsafe.org.nz) has plenty of information about how to report online harassment and abuse to providers such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
If you can, block the bullying messages coming through. Take screenshots of any bullying messages sent and save them as evidence.
If bullying messages are coming through to a mobile, contact your phone company. Netsafe has plenty of information on how to contact phone companies. When you buy – or if your children buy – their first phone, talk to them about how they can use it safely and responsibly. One phone provider has a parents guide (internet search Vodafone guide to mobile phones), which offers simple guidance on security, mobile text bullying, sexting and road safety.
Report the abuse to the provider and ask it to take action. The company should be able to trace the source of the messages and warn the bully that they could lose their number and/or access to the network if they continue.
Where to get help
www.netsafe.org.nz – Netsafe, for a wide range of information about internet safety and useful tips on parental control settings and software etc.
www.cyberbullying.org.nz and www.inmyday.org.nz – Netsafe websites that provide advice to young people, parents and caregiver, teachers and principals.
www.wellbeingatschool.org.nz – provides schools with self-review tools to build a safe and caring climate that deters bullying.