Published: 18 December 2018
Author: Mitch Fifield
Publication: The Daily Telegraph, page 13.
Teaching kids to use electronic presents wisely
With the festive season here, many of us will close our catch-ups with friends, families and loved ones with a simple message to stay safe.
It’s an almost automatic thing we do at this time of year.
‘Stay safe’ we say as we send each other off after a barbecue or a party. And almost subconsciously we re-spond to this by acting more safely.
We’ve had national campaigns about the many physical dangers we face. We’ve campaigned to put our seat belts on as we hop into the car, we watch for rips at the surf beach and we slip, slop, slap to reduce the chances of skin cancer.
We don’t always get it right. But on balance, we are pretty good when it comes to physical safety and we are getting better. This year I want Australian families to add one more thing to their safety list.
Let’s stay safe online too. It is a small addition but an important one. Australian kids are growing up in a different world to the one in which I grew up.
When I was growing up my friends and I had Space Invaders and Pac-Man and the first home computers with dial up modems.
We watched Matthew Broderick in War Games hacking into a supercomputer — years before he would go on to play Ferris Bueller.
And we delighted in the idea of a computer that talked and developed feelings in Electric Dreams.
In contrast, today’s generation of children are on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms mixing with friends.
And they are playing online games including Fortnite and Counter-Strike with people they might not know. It can feel really overwhelming, so that’s why we established the Office of eSafety back in 2015.
Parents can find a wealth of material at www.esafety.gov.au including descriptions of major games and platforms, ideas for conversations to start with our children and links to getting help when something might have gone wrong online.
We have also strengthened our laws and given more resources to stamping out illegal and offensive behaviour. In September, for example, we made it an offence to share an intimate image without consent.
The Office of eSafety also has the powers to issue a formal warning or seek an injunction when a social media platform or person fails to take down cyber-bullying material. Failing to do so can attract fines of up to $21,000 for an individual and $105,000 for a corporation.
It is not just about resources and laws though. Being safe online can sometimes involve the enduring and tested principles of being safe in the physical world.
Our children need guidance on when and how to engage with people they don’t know. They need good role models that show them what polite behaviour is.
And they benefit from acquiring resilience and self-confidence. So, when we invite each other to stay safe this festive season, let’s extend that to our online lives as well as our physical lives.
Unlike Pac-Man, when things go awry, it is not always possible to press reset and start over.
Stay safe — offline and on.
Mitch Fifield is Minister for Communications and the Arts