Parents must learn online dangers

Like children themselves, the online landscape changes constantly.

Young people's real and virtual worlds are colliding and combining more than ever, but parents are failing to keep up with social media and protect their children from the dangers lurking behind the screen.

Social media expert Adrian Lawrie says many parents shy away from trying to understand and monitor their children's online activity because they are not "IT savvy" or they use apps themselves.

The problem is young people use social media differently to adults and are more vulnerable because they often don't protect their identity, he warns.

"It's quite clear that, as a parent, it's your job to manage and supervise what they are doing online," he said.

Mr Lawrie, a teacher and father of four, runs evening classes for parents about "Kids and Today's Technology" in Perth for Relationships Australia.

"Over the last 18 months the convergence of the real world and the online world has just really boomed," he said. "We are carrying these devices around with us everywhere.

"It's not the virtual world anymore. It's actually how things are."

Jeremy Blackman, senior cyber safety specialist at The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, said young people today were so immersed in social media they were willing to overlook the negative aspects and did not think about the future or the consequences of their postings.

The main traps children can fall into online are over- sharing information or images, not protecting their identity or location and failing to realise data they put online will stay there even if deleted.

"Digital data never disappears," Mr Blackman said. "There are traces of it for those who know how to find it."

The anonymous and secret nature of highly popular sites such as Whisper - a secret sharing app - and AskFM can attract bullying, abuse and online predators.

Parents may think a child would log off an app or block any abusive or unwelcome comments, but experts warn it's not that simple.

"The kids are so wrapped up in being constantly connected to everybody, they don't do that," Mr Lawrie said.

He suggests parents start talking to their children about social media as early as possible and ask older children to show them how to use different social media.

Mr Lawrie said though parents had been advised to know their children's social media password, they should not force them to pass it on because that risked the child simply setting up alternative accounts.

While children would be friends with their parents on sites such as Facebook, they would also want to find private places on smaller apps and platforms, Mr Blackman said.

The relationship between parent and child is the key. "If the relationships are developed and maintained between parents and children, you can set yourself up to manage this a lot better," Mr Lawrie said.

Mr Lawrie will next run the Kids and Today's Technology course on July 22 and July 29. For more information, go to wa.relationships.com.au

'It's not the virtual world anymore. It's actually how things are.'"Social media expert *Adrian Lawrie *

The West Australian

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