In Part 1 of our Tech Talk series, find out how you can help teens protect their privacy and stay safe online. While our series focuses on teenagers, the general safety principles in this article apply to children as well.
Being connected online is a big part of teenagers’ lives: connection with peers to maintain friendships, connection to the internet to complete homework tasks, connection through apps and gaming sites for entertainment, and connection to websites to shop. Yet with this online freedom comes risks and the need to self-protect.
If unsecured, any internet enabled device, including smartphones, can provide unauthorised access to personal information. A more sinister risk is that of connecting with predatory adults online who pose as potential friends. Anyone searching online may also come across distressing or inappropriate sites showing pornography, racism or depictions of violence.
So how can teenagers stay safe online? Here are some basic principles.
1. Don’t share private information online. Thieves can piece personal information together to steal your identity, track your location and stalk or harass you. The most effective way to protect privacy is to not share a home address, phone number, birthday or other personal information online. This includes not posting photographs that identify a location such as school or street name.
2. Pay attention to privacy policies. Different companies offer different levels of privacy. Always check privacy policies and avoid those companies that offer little protection. Always configure the strongest privacy settings, switch off location sharing and regularly check these to ensure updates haven’t reinstated the default setting.
3. Be protective of passwords. It’s tempting to trust peers and share passwords with close friends. This can be risky. Set a strong password and never tell it to anyone. Make sure only a close circle of friends can view information on social media sites, tag or share photos and posts.
4. Develop a healthy attitude of suspicion. Online stranger danger is real. Never meet up in the real world with anyone you have “met” online, including on dating sites. If something feels wrong, inappropriate or dangerous online, listen to your instincts and exit the site straight away.
5. Watch out for traps. Email scams, as well as fake websites and apps, are becoming increasingly sophisticated and difficult to spot. Check URLs carefully to ensure they are genuine. Spelling mistakes or slight variations from the genuine brand name, or minimal information on the contact page, are clues it could be a fake site or app. Never click on pop-ups or links in emails, and never install apps from links in emails, social media, text messages or suspicious websites.
It’s critical that everyone in your family follows these online safety guidelines. Without realising it, you could post identifying or personal information about a friend or family member, making it easy for others to locate them. Always think before you post, and try to limit your use of social channels and the personal information you publish online.
Do let your child or teen know that if they are worried or have questions about anything they encounter online, they can always come to you. If you discover any kind of inappropriate contact online, take it seriously and report it to the police and the school if necessary. You can also discuss any concerns with your caseworker.
Unless you have real concerns for their safety, it’s important to respect teenagers’ privacy by not demanding their passwords or using software to track their activities. Instead, teach them to protect themselves online by following these basic guidelines.
For more information and advice about online safety, visit:
The Office of Children’s eSafety Commissioner
Think U Know
NSW Department of Education
School A to Z: Technology
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
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