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Sun. May 26th, 2024

Parents are being asked to step and take an active role in their children’s online lives with the help of former Child Abuse Detective and Specialist Child Interviewer, Kristi McVee.

Based in Western Australia, Ms McVee delivered an online safety webinar to Tamworth residents this week, talking everything about risks and the stuff parents need to know.

“Once you are on the internet you have access to everyone on the internet, and they have access to your child,” said Ms McVee.

“Some of the stuff that worries me is that parents give their child a phone or device and they haven’t had those safety conversations with them, which includes talking about protective behaviours, consent, sexting, sex and pornography.”

Since leaving the Police force, McVee founded Child Abuse Prevention and Education Australia to help take a proactive approach to help prevent child abuse and break the cycle of trauma.

Her webinar touched on what to watch out for, who is the most at risk, what they can do, and the best ways to keep themselves educated and to empower their kids online.

“If you can’t talk about those topics with your children, they are not ready for a phone,” she said.

Ms McVee explores how predators find kids online and how they groom them into releasing information and being in a relationship.

“Parents don’t realise once your give them a phone they have this world opened up to them, which is amazing, but if they have lack of supervision and lack of education then its like dropping your kid in a playground and walking away and not supervising them.”

Her advice is to delay internet and social media access and start the conversation early, with a key focus on protective behaviours.

“Protective behaviors are that everyone has the right to feel safe, including children, and that they can talk to someone about anything.”

“I get a lot of teenage boys contacting me about being extorted online and asking for help, and when I ask them if they have talked to their parents, none of them have,” said Ms McVee.

Kristi emphasises the importance of creating a safe space for your children to be able to talk and come to you when they are in trouble. And it looks a little different to what you may think.

“This includes, not using devices as a disciplinary tool when they haven’t done their homework or they’re not listening, because when it does come to them needing parental guidance and help, they won’t come to you because they are scared you are going to take that device away from them.”

“There are some really positive stuff about social media and some negative stuff about social media, so we need to create a healthy boundaries around social media and online usage, and that starts with parents and how we act and behave, and how we talk about it,” she said.

Research from the Australian Centre for Child Exploitation reveals child online exploitation has increased 360 percent last year, Australia-wide. Most of which are self-generated.

“Most of the material is self-generated and it is the biggest issue we are seeing now, where children are producing their own content because they have been either coerced, groomed or threatened into doing it.”

“Kids are taking risks because they don’t understand, and they haven’t had anyone talk to them.”

Three out of four four-year-olds have access to the internet, proving younger children are being exposed to harmful content quicker in life.

Kristi believed a lot of this could be avoided or minimised, and damage control could be quicker if we just talk to our kids.

“We have kids who don’t even know who they are, being told who they are by the internet, and this is why we are having a mental health issue,” said Ms McVee.

“Young people are dying because of this. There is nowhere safe.”

“Once upon a time we had to worry about stranger danger and the white van outside, but now the white van and the man with the lollipop is in our loungerooms and our bedrooms.”

Ms McVee is urging parents to not be complacent and use education and empowerment to make better decisions.

“The internet doesn’t care if your kid is struggling with mental health, they don’t care if there is no supportive family at home. They don’t care.”

“As a community we care, and we need to step up.”

Tamworth Family Support Services’ Intensive Service Manager, Bryarne Bielefeld, backs the sentiments saying online bullying, harassment and exploitation is here in Tamworth, and our kids have access to it. 

“Kids are curious so if they hear something they are going on their phones and looking it up and finding out that information,” said Ms Bielefeld.

“As adults, we have no idea what they are looking up, we have no ability to control what they are hearing, what they are seeing and explaining things to them.”

Bryarne works in the Tamworth community with vulnerable families and is seeing firsthand the impact of a lack of online safety, and its growth.

“We have issues with online bullying and predators online.,” said Ms Bielefeld.

“Kids have access to the internet on their phone every second of the day. Parents, when they were kids, they couldn’t get the videos and photos you can get now.”

While online domestic violence remains a growing concern.

“We are seeing more parents and young people coming to us and having issues,” said Ms Bielefeld.

“There is so much more stalking and monitoring in teenage relationship than there ever use to be.”

Tamworth Family Support Services is calling for parents to confront this awkward conversation and sooner. 

“Giving them the information realistically at a slightly younger age but being careful about what we are providing, so kids feel comfortable talking to their parents because, as we get to those teenage years, kids will turn to their peers for that information, which is not necessarily the safest place to get it from.”

On a positive, the internet opens you up to the entire world, but at the same time, the internet opens you up to the entire world.

“We think we are safe, and we are not,” said Ms Bielefeld.

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