Enhancing parents’ knowledge and practice of online safety

Enhancing parents’ knowledge and practice of online safety

4 September 2014
Hands typing on a keyboard

It is clear there is scope to enhance parents’ knowledge and practice of online safety, in order to maximise all that technology offers.

Technology plays a significant role in many areas of young people’s wellbeing— improving education, fostering creativity and strengthening relationships.

The online world should not be feared, yet many parents report they have a limited understanding of why young people engage with technology. Parents also indicate that their own digital literacy is not sufficient to enable them to guide their children’s engagement.

It is clear there is scope to enhance parents’ knowledge and practice of online safety, in order to maximise all that technology offers. The Young and Well CRC, with the University of Western Sydney, conducted research into understanding how parents think about online safety, and the impact of training by young people. Key findings from the Enhancing parents’ knowledge and practice of online safety report, include:

  • Parents and young people approach the issue of online safety differently. There is a generation gap between parents and young people when it comes to online safety. Parents tend to distinguish between “the online” and “the offline” as distinct realms, while young people view technology as merely another setting for interaction in their everyday lives. The research found social networking sparked some unease in adults, in contrast to young participants who singled out the platform as a means of participation with far-reaching positive impact. Notably, rather than sliding into a moral vacuum online, young people apply the same moral framework to their online and offline engagements and interactions.
  • Parents rely primarily on offline strategies for ensuring their children’s online safety. Unanimously, parents want to exercise some influence over their children’s activities online. They desire to complement the work that schools undertake in online safety strategies, however, they generally rely on offline methods such as surveillance at home and formal guidelines to do so. Generally, they did not recognise the potential of online security or privacy settings.
  • Experiential learning models that promote intergenerational conversation can help parents to guide their children to engage online in smart, safe, responsible and respectful ways. Intergenerational conversations between adults and young people greatly enhance adults’ understanding of online engagement among young people. In a “Living Lab” experiment, young participants were enthusiastic about assisting parents to learn more about why young people use technology, and to guide them to increase their technical skills. Furthermore, parents valued having a safe space to experiment with technology and to learn by discovery.

Parent education must address the evolving area of online safety by placing young people at the heart of the matter. The research is certainly encouraging, revealing that adults and young people can together bridge the gap in attitudes and approaches to online safety.

As digital natives, young people are a significant resource for parents. Sitting down with a young person in front of a computer, tablet or mobile phone, and talking to them about how they use technology is valuable; it allows parents to gain technical skills, reinforce family values offline that may shape their children’s technology use, and engage in open and ongoing conversations with their children on online safety.

Download the full report

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Jane Burns

Associate Professor Jane Burns is the founder and CEO of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, an organisation that unites young people with researchers, practitioners and innovators to explore the role of technology in improving mental health and wellbeing for young people.

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