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Cyber expert: 'If your child is online, they are at risk'

CYBER bullying remains the number one threat to children online, but don't think sexual predators are far behind.

"If your child is online, they are at risk" is the message Australia's leading cyber safety expert Susan McLean is trying to drill into parents.

The three biggest issues are bullying and harassment followed by the increasing number of children sending naked photos and thirdly sexual predators.

"The dangers of cyber space is a real issue and anyone parenting in the 21st century needs to know how to parent online," Ms McLean said.

She said online bullying was happening from as early as Year 3.

"That's eight years of age right through to adulthood - this isn't just a teen issue anymore," she said.

Girls sending naked photos is no new problem, but it continues to escalate.

"This has been around for as long as phones have had cameras but a lot of young people now think that this is part of the flirting and dating process and they don't understand this is actually child pornography," Ms McLean said.

But perhaps the scariest of all, and one parents may think isn't as common as the other two, is sexual predators.

Well it just got scarier.

'Cyber Cop' Susan McLean says if your child is online, they are at risk.
'Cyber Cop' Susan McLean says if your child is online, they are at risk.

"This cannot be underestimated," Ms McLean said.

"This is not police talk, this is very real and it's happening all the time.

"Predators hang out in places where there are lots of kids, they like unrestricted apps and sites where there are no recordings."

The instant messaging app Kik is the number one playground for these people to prey on children.

"Kik is the main one, it's a very popular app for sexual predators worldwide, but even Minecraft, social media, any instant messaging app," Ms McLean said.

"Most apps do have good security and don't pose a problem, but there are a lot that do."

She said parents had the responsibility to monitor what devices their children used and their activity.

"Legally you have to be 13 to have Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, all those, but some parents just don't seem to care and let them on social media without thinking of the consequences," Ms McLean said.

"A parent should be fully aware of what their child is doing online, what apps they're using, who they're talking to. (They) should have their passwords and be checking accounts and seeing the communication back and forwards."

She said the cyber safety message needed to start from day one.

"The minute a child is given a device, that conversation about appropriate ways to act online and what not to do has to start - so age three or four," Ms McLean said.

When the child turns 13 and is legally allowed to have those accounts, Ms McLean encouraged parents to have a serious think about whether the app or site was suitable for their child and closely monitor all activities.

Some signs your child may be having issues online include:

- Change in behaviour. They may seem quiet or withdrawn, not want to go to school.

- Mysterious ailments. Child may say they have a headache or feel sick right before they have to go to school.

- Extra secretive about their online activities, or are online more than usual, or not going online at all.

"We want parents to be the best experts on their children and notice any slight changes, then investigate," she said.

"What a lot of parents do is put this behaviour down to being a teenager or a kid and this too often ends in tragedy.

"Yes teens will act in a certain way, but you can't assume their change in behaviour is part of adolescence."

Topics:  heymumma heymummatech technology



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