Children exposed to ‘extreme interactions’: time to make online safety a priority

Before walked into a Texas primary school last week and killed 19 children and two teachers, he reportedly with rape and murder online. Nothing was done about these threats. They were not deemed credible as they were simply online.

There is no doubt that and the ease of access to firearms in the US should be at the centre of the discussion in the wake of the latest massacre. But many Australians will also be shocked that the teenage boy was able to get away with being so vicious and pre-meditated online. Why was this not a red flag?

There is no more important issue to tackle right now than . Whether that is educating your children about protecting themselves on social media, gaming, or being cognisant of the realities of children accessing online porn, either willingly or accidentally.

I have spent the past two years watching my three children live virtually. Every parent I speak to who has a teenage child recounts how their relationship with their children has changed because of technology.

Their mobile devices are a constant and persistent friend″⁣ in their pocket. Sometimes it feels like they have all moved out and we don’t know where they go. We constantly have to bring our children home to the real world.

We are living in the digital age where children are the crash test dummies and parents are the dumbstruck bystanders. The reality is that our children are exposed to extreme information and interactions from the time we put a phone or another device in their little hands.

What starts with using a phone or device to soothe or entertain a small child quickly evolves into round the clock use that needs to be policed in order for your older child to concentrate or behave.

Importantly, our little people learn understanding, and hone their empathetic skills, by seeing the consequences of their actions in real time. Social media interrupts this process and erodes empathy.

For many young boys, online gaming is a gateway to extreme porn being peddled directly to them. Australia’s from 2020, which showed 48 per cent of boys have seen pornography by age 13 and 48 per cent of girls by age 15.

Australia’s said this was a battle parents could not win alone, while England’s children’s tsar, , said she was horrified by the easy accessibility to porn.

As for social media, Facebook’s extraordinary whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed to a British parliamentary select committee that Instagram was unsafe for children and was turning kids as young as 10 into addicts.

Haugen said she did not think Instagram would ever be safe for children. ″⁣When kids describe their usage of Instagram, Facebook’s own research describes it as ‘an addict’s narrative’, she said.

In Australia, there has been bipartisan work to find ways to protect children online and Children’s Commissioner Hollonds must be commended, so too the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant for their ground-breaking work to address bullying and sexting online.

The incoming government has pledged to introduce more programs, including an for secondary school students and an eSmart Digital Licence+. But we also need programs that teach young people how to have a healthier relationship with technology. We need to start young and constantly challenge our approaches to parenting in the digital age.

Britain’s , a foundation that brings together experts from around the world to create a safer digital world for children, has just released a

Closer to home, the is working with experts to create a digital ages and stages guide – the first guide to technology and its harms in the early years.

The internet was designed for adults but is here to stay. It is our job as parents, educators, industry and government to protect children in all realms.

The more work we do to ensure our children can access the virtual world safely the better. We must be warriors in this new frontier. Instead of warring at home.

Chloe Shorten is an author, engager and company director. She is an advocate for public health, gender equality, people with disabilities and homelessness. She is an ambassador for the Foyer Foundation, Our Watch and a strategic adviser to the Burnet Institute.

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