Safe surfing: How are families navigating the digital jungle?

Keeping children safe is a priority for all parents, and when it comes to using the internet, many parents are not sure what they need to do to keep safe online.

For anyone with low literacy, navigating eSafety can be challenging. Scope’s Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre is currently running the “Be Safe Online” project, funded by the eSafety Commissioner. It aims to create accessible resources to support people with communication disabilities and low literacy to understand how to be safe online.

This week is National Families Week, and the theme for 2023 is “living real, dreaming big” which celebrates the importance of individual, family and community systems in influencing and supporting family wellbeing, safety and resilience. Staying safe online is an important aspect of living real.

Chrissy and her 12 year old son, Ariyan are just one family who recognise the importance of being online and understanding how to be safe.

Ariyan is currently in Year 6 and enjoys basketball, ninja gym and self defense lessons. He lives at home with his mum, dad and their dog Snowy, who provides Ariyan with joy. Ariyan has Autism and an intellectual disability which results in difficulties with literacy, so accessing the internet can be difficult.

“Aryian has been working with an Occupational Therapist (OT) to develop his skills, he’s been finding the internet a really useful tool for his school work,” Chrissy said.

“One of my main concerns about Ariyan accessing the internet is his understanding of messages that he may get from other children.

“There may be a user on Roblox who might be critiquing him and he gets very upset and takes it to heart. Grooming also concerns me in particular as children like Ariyan often don’t pick up on the cues of adults who may be acting as a child.”

Working closely with his OT, Chrissy and Ariyan use a number of strategies to ensure he can access the internet safely.

Ariyan is learning how to block and report unwanted behaviours and how to avoid giving out personal details online. He is also learning about ratings and classifications to ensure he is engaging with content that is appropriate for his age.

“I struggle to sometimes explain what’s real and what’s not in the content Ariyan watches and engages with,” Chrissy revealed.

“Sometimes it just takes a lot of repetition for him to understand – children with disabilities can often be targets in this world and especially in the social media sphere.

“For us it’s not just the typical cyberbullying we’re worried about, it’s a bit of everything, including excessive screen use, what’s real and what’s fake, what’s not okay, and are people being respectful of your needs when you’re playing online.”

Like many parents of children with disabilities, Chrissy is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Scope’s ‘Be Safe Online’ suite of accessible resources and training that can facilitate these conversations.

“To have access to these resources online would make an enormous impact because they may include useful tools like visual aids, and the wording would be prepared in a way that children with a disability can understand,” Chrissy said.

“Sometimes as a parent I often feel like a therapist or teacher…this project could help take the load off me by finding better ways of communicating these important issues to our kids.”

In order to ensure all content is co-designed, accessible and relevant, Scope will work closely with people with disabilities and their parents throughout the development of this project. The resources and training may also be suitable for people who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, but who experience difficulty accessing written information.

“Our kids have the right to be online and they have a right to engage with others in a fun, safe and respectful manner,” Chrissy said.

“Having child-friendly, tailored resources for our children can work towards reducing harm through prevention, and this is why I’m so supportive of what Scope is doing.”

“What I am hoping with this project is that children and young people can still have fun and enjoy being online but know how to build skills and knowledge on how to be safe and know when to safeguard themselves.”

Scope’s ‘Be Safe Online’ resources are currently being co-designed and co-developed, and will be available from June 2024 onwards.

We would like to thank the Commonwealth in supporting this project through their Online Safety Grants Program.