When it comes to online safety – it’s not just kids who need education

| March 3, 2009

There is a clear need for a program to help educate parents, teachers and carers on how to help children stay safe online.

My last Open Forum blog was on the subject of cyberbullying and some of the surprising findings about the extent of the problem in Australia. A Microsoft-sponsored survey, performed by Galaxy Research, found that even though a quarter of children surveyed reported they had been cyberbullied, a startling 83% of parents did not know what to do in response to the problem.

The findings demonstrated to us that there was a clear need for ongoing education at a grass roots level to help parents and teachers deal with this type of online threat. While reaching kids themselves is an important strategy, we believe that parents and teachers are the first line of defence when it comes to protecting kids online. Our hope is that by equipping adults with information about what their children are doing online we can help bridge the knowledge gap between parent and child.

Let’s face it – these days, our kids are more tech-savvy than many of us. Using technology is second nature to them, but Second Life and avatars are a mystery to most parents. The catch here is that while children are familiar with the technology, they may lack real world experience and judgment that comes with maturity, which makes them more vulnerable to predators and scammers while they engage online.

ThinkUKnow how to keep your kids safe online?

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Internet is a valuable tool, opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to education, entertainment and keeping in touch with friends and loved ones. For kids to get the most out of what the Internet has to offer, we want to make sure our kids have the right skills to use technology in safer and smarter ways. With this in mind, Microsoft has partnered with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to roll out a pilot of ThinkUKnow Australia.

ThinkUKnow is an Internet safety program designed to provide parents, teachers and carers with insight into how children use the Internet, so they can encourage them to think before they act online. The more information caregivers have about how kids behave and interact in the virtual world, the better equipped they will be to offer support, advice and protection.

The ThinkUKnow approach to Internet safety is threefold: to have fun, stay in control and report any issues to an adult. Children need to know the possible online risks and how to manage those risks, and parents need to know more about what their children are doing online so that they can help when needed. 

Power in numbers!

ThinkUKnow is a great example of the power of collaboration, as it leverages the expertise of the law enforcement, education, industry and Government sectors. Bringing these groups together is an important strategy in addressing this community challenge. 

The program is also a great example of how parents and teachers can take charge of the issue at a grass roots level. During the pilot phase, which was recently launched, volunteers from the AFP, ACMA and Microsoft are running education programs at more than 100 schools across NSW, Victoria and the ACT. Many of these volunteers are parents themselves and were approached outside of work to give talks at their local schools on how to stay safe online, underlining the need for a formalised program to help parents and teachers.

How to find out more about the dangers our kids face online?

Online risks faced by children include being approached and potentially "groomed" by online sex offenders, cyber-bullying, being stalked online, and exposure to inappropriate content, identity theft, fraud and online scams. I encourage you to visit the ThinkUKnow Web site at www.thinkuknow.org.au, to learn more about these specific threats. The Web site provides targeted educational materials and includes information on how to recognise the signs that your child is being threatened or bullied online, as well as tips on ways to broach these topics with your child.

Strategies for addressing these challenges as they arise….

In addition to raising awareness about the risks kids face in their online lives, ThinkUKnow also seeks to give parents tools to address these issues.  By providing some common sense guidelines on how adults can better protect themselves, their PCs and their families, we seek to empower parents and teachers to more confidently navigate the Net. So too, the program helps guide adults in terms of when, where and who to report to when they encounter a problem. Over the next several months, we’re confident and hopeful that this hands-on education program will result in real benefits for many, many Australian families. 

Julie Inman Grant is the regional director for Internet Safety and Security for Microsoft in the Asia Pacific