Conversations about online safety 'less black and white' - Education Matters Magazine

E-Safety, Opinion, The Last Word

Conversations about online safety ‘less black and white’

eSafety

There’s something quite different in the tone and tenor of conversations about online safety compared to almost nine years ago when eSafety first started – and it’s a change eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant finds reassuring.

Discussions about the digital experiences of children and young people are now more nuanced, with greater focus on building their capacity to harness the positives and develop strategies to cope with the challenges.

Educators, parents and carers are starting to embrace the notion that young people don’t differentiate between their ‘online’ and ‘offline’ worlds – it’s just life. 

And there is a growing recognition that harmful experiences are not just about how others treat us online. Harmful experiences can occur because of the very systems and processes that govern an app, game or device. (One example is the role of algorithms in serving up increasingly harmful material, such as disordered eating videos or content promoting violence and gore.)

In short, our conversations about the online safety of children and young people are more sophisticated, informed and complex. More grey, less black and white.

This vibrant and constructive conversation was abundantly evident on Safer Internet Day on 6 February. I would like to congratulate Australian schools and educators for their role in reaching thousands of students, parents and carers with our message to ‘Connect, Reflect, Protect’, even as they kicked off another busy year of learning.

But there is one conversation that remains somewhat of a sticking point for many adults: the merits (or harms) of online gaming. Let’s face it, it’s an activity many of us find bewildering, but conversations about online gaming must be had with all the grey we can muster.

To coincide with Safer Internet Day, we released research into the online gaming experiences of children and young people, and it showed gaming can bring huge benefits. Gaming makes young people happy and provides an escape from tough times. It connects them to their friends, helps them learn and offers mental health benefits. Over 40 per cent of young gamers said it benefited their emotional wellbeing and almost 60 per cent said it improved their social connections.

On the other hand, around 40 per cent had negative experiences, which included bullying-type behaviours. On top of that, a small minority had experienced other players doing or saying things that made them feel uncomfortable. This could include asking personal questions, being too friendly or asking them to keep secrets. These types of interactions could be an indicator of, or precursor to, someone building a relationship with a child with the intention of sexually abusing them – also known as grooming.

The combination of positive and negative experiences highlights the common paradox of the online world: incredible benefits exist alongside great harms which we must be alert to. 

How can educators and schools work in partnership with families to empower students to safely harness the benefits of an activity that is mostly played at home?

When it comes to online safety, parents and carers need to be the front lines of defence, but you – educators – are the reinforcement. And by encouraging parents to go to eSafety.gov.au, you’ll help them play ‘online defence’ a lot more effectively:

If parents or carers are raising concerns about managing gaming-related behaviour at home, or have questions on how to keep their child safe while they’re gaming, let them know that eSafety has a wealth of parent-specific online safety advice, including for online games, at eSafety.gov.au/parents. We’re also running webinars for parents on online gaming.

In cases where a parent says their child has been bullied online, let them know they can report it to eSafety.gov.au/report. We have powers to remove seriously harmful content, including cyberbullying of an Australian child, when it’s reported to us by the victim or their authorised representative, such as a parent or carer.

If a parent or carer has concerns about a child’s wellbeing related to their online lives, follow your school or sector procedures for advice about making referrals for additional support. The headspace guide on gaming for families and friends can help determine when more support might be required and pathways for accessing more support.

And finally, we have your back as much as we do that of parents. We’re here to help you play the role of ‘reinforcement’. From kid-friendly animations to curriculum-aligned teaching and learning activities, we can support you to instil the 4 Rs of online safety – resilience, respect, reasoning, and responsibility – at eSafety.gov.au/educators.

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