Australia’s foremost cyber safety expert, Susan McLean, speaks candidly with Education Matters editor Kathryn Edwards about the worrying online trends of Australian school children and how principals and teachers can keep their students safe online.
With almost three decadesof fighting cybercrimeup her sleeveSusan McLean speaks with a certain ease about the awful websites and online activities parents have caught their children partaking in, after all there’s nothing left to shock her, it’s just another day.
“I took two calls yesterday,” McLean says. “One from a principal wanting to know when I could get to their school because they’ve got an issue with the Year 6 girls and boys sharing naked pictures on Instagram and one was the mother of a 15-year-old girl, who on the outside was the perfect blueprint of a child, but then checked her phone to find he daughter’s on a fetish website meeting guys with an hourly rate in a city hotel.
“Nothing surprises me anymore, this is the world that I live in but the good thing is I suppose people come to me seeking advice.”
As Australia’s top cyber cop McLean has seen every example of technological misuse and says the implications are often lost on young generations. She has called on parents and teachers to have greater awareness and involvement in the online activities of children.
“Parents are not parenting – that’s part of the issue – parents who are trying to be their child’s best friend, and the overtly sexual nature of the world we’re in,” she says. “Technology is such an integral part of our world, and primarily a really good part of our world, but parents need to get themselves up to speed and they need to learn because if you don’t know what you’re trying to protect your children from you can’t do it.
“You also need to be involved and need to be there with them, watching, advising and guiding – and stop trying to be your child’s best friend. You are the parent, you are the adult, and you’re the one that has to make the tough decisions that your children don’t have the cognitive ability to make. Yes it’s a hard job, and you’re not always going to be liked, but that’s how it is.”
McLean says greater awareness can begin with simple steps such as talking to your children about online strangers and going through their friends and contacts list on social media sites regularly to see who appears. Children should be taught the difference between an ‘online friend’ and physically knowing somebody. If ever in doubt parents should also research a website and check whether it’s appropriate for their child.
McLean also recommends that schools integrate cyber safety into the curriculum at all levels and encourage everyone to work together – teachers, parents and students – to keep children safe online.
“Cyber safety education is not one session ticks a box,” she says. “You’ve got to get the school working towards it. You’ve got to have policy and educate staff, students and their parents.”
McLean also recommends that teachers identify and report inappropriate behaviour that has been brought to their attention.
“This issue normally manifests itself visibly in schools with either a visible change in friendship or they might see a child acting out behaviours, especially sexual behaviours, which are not age or developmentally appropriate,” she said. “Teachers have got a legal duty of care to students so inappropriate sexual behaviour comes under mandatory reporting. A teacher’s duty of care means that when they’re told about these issues they’re obligated to deal with it. They cannot say, ‘It happened at night, it’s not my problem’. I’m getting less of that now bit there’s still too much of it.”
In her new book about online safety, Sexts, Texts and Selfies, McLean provides examples of the destructive impacts of cyber bullying, to fallouts of ‘sexts’ gone viral and the hidden lurks on online predators, and shares advice on how to keep children safe in the 21st century. It is available in book stores now for $29.99, published by Viking.