Being a parent is rewarding, but tough.

You feel responsible to provide for your family, as well as protecting them – and the balance between the two is not always clear cut.

Take home internet, for example. While the internet is an excellent tool, it's easy for untrained hands to get it wrong.

The benefits are real.

On one hand, the opportunities available online are too good to ignore. Entertainment, education, business, government services, social connection... I could list out all the benefits, but the internet has been around for two decades already, so chances are you already know them. 

How do you protect your family online?

How do you protect your family online?

Suffice to say that yes, internet connectivity is not a necessity. You can easily get by without it. But without it, you may find that you and your family are missing out on a lot of opportunities.

But the risks are also real.

There are factors involved in managing online safety that cannot be ignored. For every benefit the internet brings, it can feel like it also presents a risk. And when it comes to protecting your family online, there's never been more to manage.

You've got:

  • malware
  • phishing sites
  • spam email
  • botnets
  • ransomware

The number of young users continues to grow.

But it's not just that threats are multiplying on their own, as the increase in accessibility is compounding the issue. For example, in 2010, 82 per cent of Australian teens aged 14-17 were accessing the internet . In 2015, the ABS announced that this number had reached 99 per cent . As a nation, our we are reaching a point where 100 per cent of teenagers are online regularly.

Younger Australians are not too far behind, with one report stating that 95 per cent of Australian children aged eight to 11 years had accessed the internet “in the last four weeks” .

With stats like these, it's easy to imagine how the increase in mobile devices could impact a family.

We’re putting the internet in the hands of children.

Of course, we all have the best interests at heart in providing access to online opportunities for our children. But it would be almost negligent to do so without the proper precautions because online threats present a very real cost.

For example, identity theft in Australia racks up a total of $2.2 billion a year . Not only to big business and government organisations. But to smaller family businesses and individuals as well, with stats showing that it happens to twice as many people as a household break-in. So it's no wonder that identity theft is fast becoming one of the biggest strains on the criminal justice system.

And speaking of personal costs, the average cost of a malware attack is $458 per incident, while the cost of a virus, worm, or trojan attack is $421 per incident . So by clicking the wrong link, or opening the wrong document, you can find yourself handing over a few hundred dollars to get your laptop or phone repaired or replaced.

The costs aren't always monetary.

Take cyber-bullying. Stats show that between 10-20% of young people have experienced cyber-bullying . The knock-on effects of this behaviour are hard to calculate, and this is not something parents would want their children to have to deal with.

Or sexting – the practice of sending or receiving explicit messages and material such as texts, video clips, and pornography. In one study, 58 per cent of Australian girls aged 15-19 said that girls often receive indecent or sexually explicit material and that the material was “uninvited or unwanted” . It doesn't take much imagination to see how this can have a deeply negative impact on the recipients.

While we're talking about explicit material, there is the question of accidental exposure to adult content. As the internet becomes easier to access, it increases the chance that children will encounter images and material that is not suitable for their age. One survey said that 28 per cent of Australian children aged between nine and 16 have already been exposed to “sexual material online” .

This isn't to ignore the impacts that over-consumption can have on family members. For example, interacting with laptops, tablets and mobile phones before bed can interrupt sleep.

You don’t need to be a doctor to know that interrupted sleep can cause problems. We’ve all had a bad night’s rest and struggled to get through the next day. The amount of sleep we get can impact on concentration, coordination, short-term memory, sociability and more.

According to Deloitte, approximately 30 per cent of Australians use their devices during the evening - and that's not just to check the time or set the alarm . Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report also says that this behaviour is most pronounced among “younger age groups”.

A common-sense approach to internet safety can help protect your family online

A common-sense approach to internet safety can help protect your family online

It might seem like harmless behaviour. What's wrong with sending off a quick message before turning in for the night? But according to sleep experts, there can be a runaway effect. Using a screen makes you more “wakeful” - and the more wakeful you are, the more activity you do, resulting in a “vicious cycle” .

According to the Sleep Foundation, even our small devices are to blame. They emit enough light that they "miscue the brain and promote wakefulness” .

As if that wasn't bad enough, another study showed that Australian children spend an average of 705 minutes a week online . With a bit of maths, that calculates out to 611 hours a year - or more than 25 days. In addition to the time this takes away from other activities, spending this much time hunched over screens can be bad for posture, which could lead to other effects such as neck pain or even RSI . So it's easy to see how excessive internet usage could directly affect sleep, study, and health.

Online safety a big topic.

Which makes it worth investing a little time into understanding the options you have when it comes to managing your family's online safety.

Because online safety in the home has moved past simple. It's a multi-faceted topic. It gets technical, with new elements to consider every day.

You have to understand the impact these factors can have and know how to manage the threats they pose. All while giving your family access to the positive opportunities the internet provides.

Prevention is better than cure!

With that in mind, here are some popular and sensible ways you can help protect your family online.

Educate and communicate. Learning the dos and don'ts of online behaviour is one step. The next step is to talk with your family about the dangers.

1. Educate them on what is acceptable online.

2. Work together to uncover their concerns as well.

3. Teach your kids how to keep their private info safe. Why it's important to keep things like your home address and phone number private.

4. Give examples of the possible consequences.

5. Work together to make a plan of what to do in case they do slip up.

Install anti-malware and anti-virus software. Keeping these up to date and performing regular scans can help to keep the chance of infection down.

Set and enforce online rules. Work with your family to make timetables that balance free internet time with work, study, and other obligations. Include types of content that are okay to access, the sites they need to be productive, and the hours that work best for them.

Set restrictions. Use cyber safety devices such as Family Zone to filter internet access and app use based on age-appropriate settings.

Install moderator apps on mobile devices. These apps help restrict access to inappropriate content and enforce internet curfew times, both inside and outside the home.

Keep an open environment. Place desktops in public areas of the house, and store laptops, tablets and other devices in a public area, such as the lounge room.

Give your devices a bedtime. Make it a rule that your mobile devices are placed back in their space in the lounge room to recharge on a nightly basis. This will help limit the temptation to indulge in night-time browsing.

Monitor access. Most internet providers (including Southern Phone) will let you track how much internet bandwidth you use each month. If the usage spikes, it might be time to have a discussion with your family about the time spent online. If bandwidth is a problem, you could also consider moving to an unlimited plan.

Protecting your family online can be simple.

You just need a combined approach. One that makes use of simple tech tips, common sense, and open communication. While the threats may change over time, we here at Southern Phone are committed to helping you make it easy to connect with confidence. Together, it is possible to keep your family safe online.

Rick van Emmerik
Customer Experience Manager
Southern Phone 

Footnotes
http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/D11394A54F8B9ED1CA25796600152C62?opendocument
http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/8146.0
https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/health-and-community/enewsletter/kids-online-statistics
https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/IdentitySecurity/Documents/Identity-crime-and-misuse-in-Australia-2016.pdf
https://www.staysmartonline.gov.au/sites/g/files/net301/f/Cost%20of%20cybercrime_INFOGRAPHIC_WEB_published_08102015.pdf
https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/children-who-bully-school/understanding-school-bullying
https://www.plan.org.au/learn/who-we-are/blog/2016/03/02/dont-send-me-that-pic
https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/health/internet-porn-bad-adolescent-health
http://landing.deloitte.com.au/rs/761-IBL-328/images/tmt-mobile-consumer-2016-final-report-101116.pdf
http://www.abc.net.au/health/features/stories/2015/05/21/4239985.htm
https://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/electronics-the-bedroom
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-15/children-now-spend-more-time-online-than-watching-tv/8272708
http://www.chiropractorsnsw.asn.au/assets/pdf/Media-Releases/170410_CAANSW_Story_Text_Neck_a_growing_pain.pdf

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