Early education vital to safeguard children online

Safeguarding children online starts early – this is the key message of ACU early childhood online safety expert Professor Susan Edwards for this year’s 20th global Safer Internet Day.

Professor Edwards said with research showing almost half of all children received hurtful or nasty treatment online in the past year and more than a quarter behaving that way against others, everyone had a role to play to make online interactions safer.

“The earlier we teach children about how to interact safely, positively and respectfully online, the better online community we can create for learning, play, socialisation and civic participation,” she said.

Professor Edwards, who recently collaborated with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on the creation of the online safety children’s book Jack Changes the Game,written by author Tess Rowley, said children had direct and indirect interactions with the internet.

Indirect interactions were when adults used the internet on their behalf including sharing photos on social media, while direct interactions were when young children engaged with digital technologies such as games, apps, and streaming services.

“These interactions can be beneficial for children because they promote opportunities for communicating with others, participating in creative digital play or enjoying well-made content,” Professor Edwards, of the Institute of Learning Sciences and Teacher Education, said.

“They can also expose children or risks, such as being contacted by unknown people, viewing inappropriate content, online bullying, or inadvertently downloading viruses or malware.

“Online safety education for young children helps children learn to identify the benefits of using the internet and fosters an early awareness of risk management.”

To mark Safer Internet Day on February 7, Professor Edwards shared the following top tips for families to help safeguard children online:

  • Supervise young children when they are playing games, apps or watching content online.
  • Co-use the internet with children for everyday activities, such as shopping, looking up recipes or connecting with family and friends.
  • Model appropriate online behaviours with children such as creating strong passwords together, only using technologies to talk with in-person friends and inviting permission to take and post photographs of children to social media.
  • Take advantage of reputable materials and resources designed to help children and their caregivers learn about online safety together

Professor Edwards, who is also the director of ACU’s Early Childhood Futures program, lead advisor on the Federal Government’s eSafety Early Years program, and an advisor for Playing IT safe, is currently leading a major Australian Research Council-funded project aimed at developing evidence-based online education tools for early childhood educators.

The project also involves stakeholders from five other universities, the e-Safety Commissioner, the AFP, Raising Children Network, Early Childhood Australia, Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Project Synthesis and ABC Kids.

Safer Internet Day

Jack Changes the Game: New AFP children’s book ‘changes the game’ for online safety | Australian Federal Police

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