Over the past 5 years I have been working with a large number of students and parents across Australia. In 2017, I presented to over 80 thousand students, as well as 30 thousand parents and educators.
I believe there is a fear among parents about particular Apps, especially in regard to who may be using them and whether they are safe for kids. Many commentators and 'Experts' in Australia have raised a culture of panic among parents in regard to the use of Social Networking Apps (Snapps). Though I do express caution must always be used when on any App, this panic culture is not helping the situation and ultimately can lead to parents and kids being worse off.
Using 2 of the current Top 10 Snapps as examples, SnapChat and Musical.ly. We can really get an understanding of this culture of fear and the frustration it creates within the home. Especially between parents and their younger teens. Many commentators argue these networks are full of sex offenders or perverts and as such, insist parents demand their children not use them out of fear of approach by such people. Is this fear warranted? To a degree I believe it is, but only if it is being used as part of an overall assessment of risk.
If such fear is being used to hide away and keep our heads in the sand, then I believe it can do more harm than good. As a result, conversations will not occur within the home and kids will create accounts without parental knowledge. They will rush in without assessment to risk and this is a far worse situation to be in.
There are always risks in the online world. No different from the real world. A child playing on their own in a park on a weekend can be approached by a predator. That risk is always there. But does this mean we never let our kids leave the house alone? That we lock them in a cupboard to ensure that will never happen? Of course not. We have taught our kids how to deal with such situations in the real world. We have taken steps to minimise that risk. Why should the online world be any different?
By no means am I suggesting that we take a relaxed view of Snapps. Quite the opposite. In my experience as a police officer working in technology related crime, the biggest thing that resonated with me was not WHAT our kids were using, but HOW they were using them. So many of our kids fail or forget to treat the online world with the same level of respect they show their real world. So this is where I believe education must be targeted. No longer 'Cyber Safety', but instead key education and knowledge in regard to 'Internet Awareness'.
If used appropriately, with the right level of caution and parental involvement, such Apps are a great way for kids to interact with their peers and to share their experiences. It is how the modern teen communicates. However, like anything in life, if not used appropriately or with the right level of respect, then yes, our kids will always be at risk. So this is where appropriate and well considered education is a must, not only within the home but at school.
For SnapChat and Musical.ly in particular, being fore-warned is being fore-armed. As a parent, the first thing to do is to download the Apps yourself and start using them. Get to know how they work, the positives and the negatives. If certain aspects of the Apps concern you, speak to your kids about them and express why you have those concerns. Put rules in place in regard to use and settings and if those rules are broken, just like in the real world, impose consequences.
I know it sounds so clichéd, but conversations are the key. At Tech Crime, when I was dealing with familes who were caught up with incidents online, so often parents had no idea what the kids were using and the kids deep down wanted their parents to show more concern. Our kids are getting online younger and younger. This is the world we live in. So it is so important to have conversations regularly within the home to help build an understanding of concern, which will hopefully help evolve a culture of appropriate internet use by our kids.