Ignatian Newsletter: 2024 - Editon #4

ICT News

Written by
Victor Dalla-Vecchia
ICT Manager

Cybersafety Part 3: Do you know who your children are talking to?

In a previous edition of the Ignatian we looked at Cybersafety and the perils of putting information about oneself on the Internet.

In this edition we’ll be looking at ‘stranger danger online’.

Real friendships involve face-to-face contact, whereas social media sites such as Facebook foster friendships between all kinds of people, including those between honest and dishonest people.

Unfortunately, teenagers may not be so selective! Picture this: It’s a quiet night in front of the television. The family’s had dinner, the dishes are washed, and the lunches are made. The children are playing quietly on the computer, chatting/texting with friends on their mobile phones, exploring social media or just playing Internet games. It’s great for parents/guardians to be able to just put their feet up. Except for one thing: there’s an unseen paedophile lurking in the house…

Do you know who your child is communicating with online?

Consider this true story. A teenage boy enjoyed playing online games with schoolmates. He also befriended a handful of gamers through the gaming site. Eventually he started chatting online with one of these ‘friends’, supposedly another 15-year-old like himself. They started sharing some personal things, and over time their online chatting became more and more frequent. They eventually exchanged mobile phone numbers and began texting each other at all hours. Eventually, with the summer holidays approaching, they made plans to meet each other. His friend invited him to come stay with him and organised a plane ticket for him. The teenage boy’s parents became suspicious when their son wanted to go to the airport unaccompanied, saying that he was old enough to look after himself – this is what his ‘friend’ convinced him to say. At the airport the police arrested a man in his forties and charged him with a number of offences. The teenage boy had no idea that he was being groomed by a paedophile.

Social networking sites are a great way to stay in touch with friends and family. You can tell friends what’s been happening and post photos, play games and basically just hang out. But there are dangers, and strangers making inappropriate contact is just one of those dangers.

The advent of personal digital devices in recent years has only exacerbated the problem. With more and more of these devices being placed in the hands of children, this means that children now have 24x7 access to the outside world around them, and the world has access to them!

What can parents do to protect their children from ‘stranger danger’?

1. Stay involved in your child’s use of new technologies – get them to show you how their online social networks work.

2. Help your child remain unidentifiable online, by name and by location: set up their profile to make sure that they don’t put too much personal information online – e.g. never put date of birth, home or school address, phone number, personal email address, sports teams your child plays in or the name of their school. Be careful that any photos that are posted do not reveal any of this information.

3. Check out the privacy settings for each online service and familiarise yourself with how to report abuse. Hopefully, you will never need to do this but it’s good to be prepared. Find out how you can manage your child’s access to the ‘adult’ content and services offered by their mobile phone carrier. Such information is usually available on the carrier’s website.

4. Talk to your child about what they like about social networking/gaming websites, explain what some of the dangers are in using them and teach your child ways to stay safe. You may be able to discuss and create some house rules together with your child. Always keep the lines of communication open. Kids need to be confident that they can talk to parents/guardians about what’s happening, without being afraid that they’re automatically going to get in trouble.

What can teenagers do to protect themselves from ‘stranger danger’?

1. Never give out your personal information – check out point 2 above. Check with your parents or guardians first before deciding to give out or post personal information.

2. Remember that you may feel that you are just talking to friends, but the whole world could be tuning in. Keep an eye on what’s being posted and guard your privacy! Don’t post photos that you might not want strangers or your grandmother to see!

3. Learn how to make your profile and other content you post private. You’re the one who should be in control, here.

4. Think twice before posting blogs and profiles – they can stay there forever. Your parents, future employers and perhaps your future children may end up seeing it! Don’t post photos of other people without their permission.

5. Remember there are impersonators out there – not everyone is who they claim to be. Although it’s great to have lots of online ‘friends’ including these unverified people on your friends list, allows them to see everything about you. This information could be used in a scam, to steal your identity, or worse.

6. Keep your online friends online! However, if you want to meet someone that you haven’t met before in person, ask a parent or another trusted adult to go with you and always meet in a public place, preferably during the day.

7. Say ‘NO’ to any offers that seem too good to be true – they probably are! Never accept the offer of a free mobile phone (or other digital device) from someone without asking your parents or guardian first. Never sign up for free ringtones – you could be signing up to receive porn! To prevent this, just type in the word ‘stop’ and by Law they have to stop sending you the stuff – if they don’t, tell your parent or guardian to contact your service provider.

8. Never on-send a chain email, even if it says that you will die if you don’t or even if it seems to be for a really good cause – it may contain a macro that automatically sends your email address to someone who sells email addresses to paedophiles. These predators then randomly seek out children to try to start a conversation with them.

9. Always check the URL (Internet address at the top of the browser) to ensure you are actually at the website you think you should be at. Bogus sites seek to impersonate real ones, in order to get you to enter your personal information and start looking for exploitation opportunities.

10. Don’t stay. Don’t respond! – If someone in a chat room posts offensive pictures or says something rude or scary, or if you are sent these in an email, don’t respond; instead, save them, leave the chat room immediately and tell your parent, guardian or another trusted adult about the incident. Saving the offensive content means you can produce it as evidence to help catch online troublemakers and predators.

If you are concerned about any of these issues and wish to discuss them with a trusted person, please contact the School Counsellor. For more information on Cybersafety go to https://www.esafety.gov.au/. Add this website to your favourites on your computer.

Stay safe while socialising online.