AFP urges parents and carers to prepare children for digital milestones
Editor's note: Audio from AFP Commander Hilda Sirec is available for download.
With teens eligible to independently set up their own social media accounts once they turn 13 years old, the AFP is encouraging parents and carers to talk to their children about online safety.
The safety message comes as the AFP ThinkUKnow program today launches a new resource, Parent and carer social media starter kit: preventing online child sexual exploitation, which provides tips and advice on how to implement safety measures to help prevent instances of online child sexual exploitation on social media.
AFP Commander for the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) Hilda Sirec said while some children may have had their own tablets, gaming consoles and other devices for years, turning 13 years old is an important milestone for parents and carers to initiate age-appropriate conversations about their personal safety online.
"Websites, apps, games or sites have the potential to be positive, and foster creativity, teach problem-solving skills, and provide much-needed connectivity to friends, however, there is also the potential for them to be misused or cause harm.
"Talking to your children early and often about their online behaviour as well as educating them on safe online practices is key to ensuring that children use the internet safely.
"The return of the school year is a good time to have, or re-start, those conversations.
"We know parents and carers are doing a great job raising their kids, and that is why we are encouraging them to have important safety conversations with children before they sign up to social media services to prevent the risk of online child sexual exploitation.
"These conversations are vital to helping protect children online but also for creating an open and non-judgemental channel of communication throughout their teenage years."
Many reports made to the ACCCE involve instances of self-generated child sexual abuse material, online grooming and inappropriate contact – many of which begin through interactions on social media.
Parents and carers are reminded that although at age 13 a young person is legally allowed to create an account in their own name, it does not necessarily mean that the content and images they will be exposed to is appropriate for that age group.
Parents and carers are also being urged to implement safe online habits and preventative measures at home to reduce the risk and incidence of online child sexual exploitation.
Commander Sirec said the AFP recommends all parents and carers have the following conversations with their children when they are old enough to sign up for social media:
- Discuss their online activities, including how they intend to use an app and who they will be interacting with;
- Talk about appropriate privacy settings. The AFP recommends strong privacy settings and regularly checking that they are still in place as they can be changed at any time;
- Talk about how to recognise a suspicious friend or follower request and what to do about it (block, and if, necessary, report);
- Discuss their options if someone online was asking personal questions or even asking for sexualised images; and
- Make sure your child has a support network of trusted people they can talk to if something goes wrong.
Research conducted by the ACCCE found 80 per cent of parents or carers would react with anger or blame towards their child if they found out that they shared images online, and 73 per cent would be angry if their child spoke to strangers online.
Commander Sirec said it was vital parents and carers were always approachable if their child needed help.
"Having honest and regular conversations with your child are important so they know what to do and how to get help if something goes wrong online," Commander Sirec said.
"To help empower young people it is important to build knowledge and critical thinking skills to help them navigate online challenges, including recognising when something isn't right and taking action"
To comply with US legislation under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule, many social media companies have set the age restrictions for holding an account at 13 years old.
The AFP's online child safety education program, ThinkUKnow, has resources and advice for parents and carers to learn more about preventing online child sexual exploitation.
The AFP's ThinkUKnow program has a long history of educating Australian parents, carers and teachers about keeping children and young people safe online. During the past financial year, ThinkUKnow delivered presentations to more than 198,000 students and about 1,460 parents, carers and educators.
The ThinkUKnow Corporate Report 20-2021 details the achievements of the program over the past financial year, including presentations delivered highlighting the demand and need for online child safety education throughout the pandemic.
Research conducted by the ACCCE in 2020 revealed only about half of parents talked to their children about online safety.
Fifty per cent of parents don't know what to do to keep their kids safe online. Just 3 per cent of parents are concerned about online grooming. And sadly, most believe online child sexual exploitation is too repulsive to even think about.
A podcast launched last year by the ACCCE 'Closing The Net' is working to change that, showcasing that knowledge is power and that our only chance to help prevent this issue is if we bring a 'whole-of-community' response.
The podcast series offers valuable tips and advice on how to keep kids safe online.
It has recorded more than 75,000 downloads and trended number one on Australian documentary podcasts, highlighting the demand for information and resources to help protect kids when they're online. Listen to the Closing the Net podcast on your favourite streaming platform.
Top tips for parents and carers
- Encourage your child to use critical thinking skill as to whether a person online is who they say they are.
- Ensure the information and photos or videos your child posts does not give away any personal information including their address or location, (and don't post your location or 'check in')
- If they want to check in, suggest doing this once they have left the location, or disable location or geotagging on their phone.
- Only accept friends or follower requests from people they know in person.
- Set the privacy settings for your child's social media account to private. If the account is public anyone can see what they post and they may be searchable online.
- If something goes wrong, or an interaction makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, make sure they know how to seek help.
- More information can be found in the Parent and carer social media starter kit: preventing online child sexual exploitation.
How to report online child abuse
- If you believe a child is in imminent danger, call police Triple Zero (000) or visit your local police station.
- If your child is experiencing issues online, it is essential to collect evidence - taking screenshots or photos of the content. Once you have collected your evidence, block and report on the app, site or platform where the issue occurred.
Online child sexual exploitation can be reported to the ACCCE or call Crime stoppers on 1800 333 000.
If you or someone you know are impacted by child sexual abuse and online exploitation there are support services available, visit the ACCCE to learn more.
Advice and support for parents and carers about how they can help protection children online can be found at ThinkUKnow, an AFP-led education program designed to prevent online child sexual exploitation.
Note to media:
Use of term 'CHILD ABUSE' MATERIAL NOT 'CHILD PORNOGRAPHY'
The correct legal term is Child Abuse Material – the move to this wording was among amendments to Commonwealth legislation in 2019 to more accurately reflect the gravity of the crimes and the harm inflicted on victims.
Use of the phrase "child pornography" is inaccurate and benefits child sex abusers because it:
- indicates legitimacy and compliance on the part of the victim and therefore legality on the part of the abuser; and
- conjures images of children posing in 'provocative' positions, rather than suffering horrific abuse.
Every photograph or video captures an actual situation where a child has been abused.
AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297