Teens as teachers: Parents brush up on online safety

In time for Safer Internet Day, research from the University of Western Sydney and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre (opens in a new window) has revealed that young people are well aware of the risks of being online – but they could show their parents a thing or two.

As part of the Enhancing parents’ knowledge and practice of online safety project, a group of young people were asked to design and deliver online safety workshops for parents in front of a computer screen.

The pilot project aimed to give parents a close-up view of how and why young people use technology, and assess what impact this has on parent’s own digital literacy.

Perhaps reassuringly for parents, the study indicated that young people:

  • Make good use of the online security controls and privacy settings that are available;
  • Are particularly savvy about how to stay safe when using social networking sites; and
  • Are influenced by their parent’s when it comes to being smart, safe, respectful and resilient online.

“Parent participants in the study reported that it was a great comfort to realise young people don’t slide into a moral vacuum when they go online,” says Dr Amanda Third, research program leader from the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) at UWS.

“For young people, communicating online is just another setting for their everyday interactions. They apply the same moral frameworks to their online engagements as they do in their face-to-face interactions.

“This underlines the importance of parents continuing to have open and ongoing conversation with young people about their online activities in ways that reiterate their family’s values. These conversations are one backdrop against which young people make decisions online.”

Associate Professor Jane Burns, CEO of the Young and Well CRC, says the research shows that young people today generally understand the range of risks they might face online, and they take active steps to minimise them.

“Their online safety strategies draw upon school-based cybersafety education, as well as the information and skills they gain through peer networks, sibling relationships and conversations with the adults in their lives,” says Associate Professor Burns.

The study also looked at the ways parents support their children’s online safety – finding that parents’ strategies often centre on either overt or covert monitoring of their children’s use of technology.

Dr Third says some of the key challenges for promoting the young people’s online safety lie in building adults’ familiarity with the platforms young people use, and their technical skills and understanding of the attractions of using technology.

“Parents said that they don’t always understand the importance young people place on the use of technology, and that their own digital literacy is underdeveloped,” says Dr Third.

“Some parents lack either the expertise or confidence to self-educate about online safety, and may not be sufficiently empowered to guide their children’s online safety practices. For example, some parents reported that they are not sufficiently familiar with online safety tools and software, and therefore do not make full use of them.”

Whilst this study shows there is cause for optimism, online safety is an ongoing challenge.

The study found that intergenerational conversations between young people and parents can greatly assist parents to feel more confident in managing their own children’s online interactions.

“Families, schools and communities need to keep having open conversations about what young people are doing online so we can ensure our young people can continue to keep themselves as safe as possible,” says Associate Professor Burns.

The full report can be downloaded at youngandwellcrc.org.au (opens in a new window)

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