Introduction to child safety online
We see news stories about the impact of technology on our everyday lives all the time these days. Many of us started to think about how technology affects us personally. But how many of us have stopped to think about how it affects our children?
Kids are receiving their first internet-capable device earlier and earlier. In fact, nearly 1 in 2 (46%) NZ kids are not getting device free play-time every day. Even in school, technology is abundant. Teachers set homework that requires online research and tools and use apps to manage that homework.
Technology is always adapting and it’s here to stay, but many do not think about the safety risk in terms of cybersecurity. An online study revealed a startling figure: 74% of parents are in the dark about their kids’ online activities. And that online activity increases year after year. 85% of mothers said they use technology to keep their children busy.
For a lot of children, the online world is more real than the real world. It is crucial to our children’s well-being that we understand what they see online, what is out there, both good and bad, and how it impacts their physical and emotional well-being.
The problem, as many of us would eagerly admit, is that we feel we don’t really understand the online world. Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are bewildering enough, without even mentioning 4chan and the dark web. Furthermore, we don’t feel that we have the technical skills to navigate this complex landscape.
There are lots of different technical tools available out there to help keep your kids safe online. These vary from antivirus software to internet filters and parental controls. But none of these are really enough to help keep your child safe.
The key isn’t mastering a set of complicated technical tools. (In fact, most are very easy to set up, so don’t let a lack of technical ability hold you back). It also doesn’t mean you have to master the latest internet fad every time one pops up – believe us, you will never keep up!
The far more important, but also far more difficult task, is to have frequent, open and honest discussions with your children about their lives. Remember, internet companies, social media networks, gaming providers, and everyone else in the online space may be able to help you set content limits, but they don’t necessarily have your child’s best interests at heart.
The very best person to keep your child safe online is you. Talking about how to stay safe on the internet is an excellent conduit to build a trusting and positive relationship with your child. Set clear boundaries for what and when they access online, but also to be there for your children when they make a mistake, or when they have gone too far. Isn’t that what parenting fundamentally comes down to?
While children and teenagers need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that apply to the real world also apply while online. If you have cause for concern about your children's online activities, talk to them.
Cyber safety guidelines for parents
Make it a family rule to:
- Never give out identifying information - home address, school name, or telephone number - in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards, and be sure you're dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving it out privately to someone.
- Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status or financial information.
- Consider using a pseudonym or unlisting your child's name if your service allows it.
- Get to know the services your child uses. If you don't know how to log on, get your child to show you. Find out what types of information it offers and whether there are ways for parents to block objectionable material.
- Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public spot, and be sure to accompany your child.
- Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your service provider and ask for their assistance. We also have help pages listed at the bottom of this article that you can contact.
- If you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online, report this immediately to the Department of Internal Affairs by emailing: email@example.com. You should also notify your service provider.
- Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can't see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him or herself. Thus, someone indicating that ‘she’ is a ‘12-year-old girl’ could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
- Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that's too good to be true probably is. Be very careful about any offers that involve your coming to a meeting or having someone visit your house.
- Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children (see below.) Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder.
- Remember to monitor their compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer.
- A child or teenager's excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
- Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child's bedroom. Get to know their 'online friends' just as you get to know all of their other friends.
Rules for cyber safety
- I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number, parents’ work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents’ permission.
- I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
- I will never agree to get together with someone I ‘meet’ online without first checking with my parents.
- If my parents agree to the meeting, I will be sure that it is in a public place and bring one of my parents along.
- I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents.
- I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. It is not my fault if I get a message like that. If I do, I will tell my parents right away.
- I will talk with my parents so that we can set up rules for going online. We will decide upon the time of day that I can be online, the length of time I can be online, and appropriate areas for me to visit. I will not access other areas or break these rules without their permission.
These rules are from www.censorship.dia.govt.nz and are based on material supplied by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Mobile phones and apps
“Parents were asked at what age their child first owned or used a mobile phone. The median age was 8 years,” said Mary Redmayne, an adjunct research fellow at Monash University in Australia and a co-author of a study examining phone use in primary school children. Giving your child a smartphone comes with numerous benefits. A phone is an excellent safety tool; your child can use it to let you know they safely reached their destination, call you for a ride, or call in case of an emergency. You can also use the GPS on their phone to track their location. Knowing that you can always reach your child is a tremendous peace of mind for a parent.
Smartphones, however, can also be misused, and in some situations can make children vulnerable. Because smartphones are personal devices, we don’t often know what our children do on them, or how they use them.
If you’re considering giving your child a smartphone, it helps to have some clearly outlined guidelines in place beforehand, so everyone is on the same page. If your child already has a smartphone, it’s not too late to review the family rules. Demonstrate to them that having a smartphone is a big responsibility.
Implement smartphone rules with your child. Making sure your kids involve you on their phone activities will help keep them safe.
There are many precautions you can take to implement phone safety:
- Have your kid sign a smartphone contract before you give them one. Print out a list of cell phone rules and stick it in a public place in your home.
- Download parental controls. Parental control apps for younger children enable you to limit your child’s usage, determine their location, and monitor their calls and messages. Apps also allow you to shut off certain functions at different times. For example, disabling text messaging while driving.
- Set limits when your child can use a smartphone and for how long each day.
- Set a personal example for your child. Don’t bring your phone to the dinner table, and don’t text and drive.
- Set up a charging station in a central location in your home. Phones should stay out of your child’s bedroom so they won’t be in use late at night.
- You can also install an app to monitor your child’s activity. Keepers is one type of app that alerts parents about harmful, abusive, or suspicious messages, and it includes a tracking device to show your kid’s location in real time.
- Bhatt CR., Benke G., Smith CL., Redmayne M., Dimitriadis C., Dalecki A., Macleod S., Sim MR., Croft RJ., Wolfe R., Kaufman J., Abramson MJ. (2017). Use of mobile and cordless phones and change in cognitive function: a prospective cohort analysis of Australian primary school children.
Streaming content and smart TVs
We like to think back to a time when the whole family gathered around the TV to watch something wholesome together. (In reality, many of us probably had a TV in our rooms, and spent many hours watching TV without much guidance from our parents.)
That being said, streaming content has shot up in popularity, and there are more TV shows and movies available at our fingertips than ever before, much of it not particularly appropriate for kids.
There are, however, some great benefits of streaming services. Many feature great, educational children’s programming and documentaries. Most don’t show any ads, meaning that your kids won’t be bombarded with commercial messaging from all sides like they are when they watch regular TV. You can open up an entire world for your children with streaming content – the key is how you use it.
Most of the big streaming content providers have parental controls, some more robust than others. Netflix allows you to set up separate profiles for you and for your children.
Using these tools, you can ensure that your kids only have access to age-appropriate content. Because Netflix’s children’s menu features a different colour scheme than the regular menu, you can easily see whether your kids access the content permitted to them or not. However, this doesn’t stop kids from moving over to your profile, so you still have to be vigilant.
iTunes and Apple TV allows parents to set rating levels for the content their children watch. By contrast, Amazon Prime features no parental controls, so the only thing to do is to log out of your account and not share the password.
All of these tools, however, do not replace having frequent conversations with your children about what they watch.
Monitor TV time by limiting the number of hours they watch per day, incorporating parental settings, talking to your child about the content they watch, and spending TV time as a family.
Gaming consoles and online games
New Zealand kids are spending nearly half (47%) of their time outside of school hours ‘plugged in’ to technology, with ‘playing games on the Internet’ (72%) being the activity children participate in most during the week. 2 in 3 New Zealanders play video games. Gaming consoles have long been a focus of fear and concern for many parents. With so many games featuring violent or sexual content, it is important to be careful about the kinds of games your children play.
In addition, console games that have a multiplayer component, or games that are entirely based online, are open to abuse from other players. Many games allow players from all over the world to chat with one another, potentially exposing kids to harassment and cyberbullying. Kids may also form relationships with other players and may give away their personal information.
Games are also a great way for kids to develop a variety of skills. They help children develop problem-solving skills, learn how to commit to long-term goals, and how to work as part of a team. They can also be a great opportunity for family bonding. Luckily, most gaming consoles provide robust parental controls, so parents can monitor their children’s gameplay.
Some helpful tips for safety when gaming:
- Encourage your children to discuss the games they play.
- Make sure your child profile is set to private.
- Consider keeping the gaming console in a shared, social space.
- Study the age rating of the games.
- Use parental controls to set up profiles.
- Limit the type of people your child can speak to online.
Recently, Facebook pages have been set up in New Zealand that post malicious, distressing, unkind and rude comments about people – sometimes anonymously. One even rated the sexual prowess of individuals. If you want to complain about profiles, pages and other content, use the link on your Facebook page, "Report/Block this person".
Facebook do take complaints seriously, and recently issued A Guide to Facebook Security. This guide suggests:
- Only “Friend” people you know.
- Create a secure password and use it only for Facebook.
- Don’t share your password.
- Change your password regularly.
- Share your personal information only with people and companies that need it
- Log into Facebook only once each session. If it looks like Facebook is asking you to log in a second time, skip the links and directly type www.facebook.com into your browser address bar.
- Use a one-time password when using someone else’s computer.
- Log out of Facebook after using someone else’s computer.
- Use secure browsing whenever possible.
- Only download apps from sites you trust.
- Keep your anti-virus software updated.
- Keep your browser and other applications up to date.
- Don’t paste script (code) in your browser address bar.
- Use browser add-ons like Web of Trust and Firefox’s NoScript to keep your account from being hijacked.
- Beware of “goofy” posts from anyone – even Friends. If it looks like something your Friend wouldn’t post, don’t click on it.
- Scammers might hack your Friends’ accounts and send links from their accounts. Beware of enticing links coming from your Friends.
While the format has changed, parents have worried about their kids’ TV shows and video games for years. Social media, on the other hand, is a new worry to add to your plate.
Social media usage is now ubiquitous amongst NZ teens; CensusAtSchool asked students what they did most often with their cell phones. Girls (49%) and boys (31%) said they spend their time on social media. 8 in 10 teens and 6 in 10 primary school children say there are no limits on their screen time out of school – whether that’s playing computer games, using their phones, or browsing the internet.
Children nowadays spend an enormous amount of time on social media. A 2011 Auckland University schools census, which collects data from more than 20,000 students showed that, even though most social media platforms require users to be 13 years of age to sign up, about 60 percent of 12-year-olds, 40 percent of 11-year-olds and about a quarter of 10-year-olds have a Facebook page.
Social media can be particularly addictive for tweens and teens. It also opens the door to a variety of different issues, like cyberbullying, inappropriate sharing, and talking to strangers (more on those below).
Access to social media is also central to teens’ developing a social identity. It’s the way that they connect with their friends, and it can be a healthy way to hang out. The key is to figure out some boundaries so that it remains a positive experience.
Safety rules for Social Media:
- Discuss the pressure to share
Kids constantly feel pressure to share pictures and other details about their lives. Have a positive conversation about the value of privacy to help relieve them of that pressure.
- Understand the permanence of social media
Remind your kids that there’s no such thing as deleting something on social media. Knowing that whatever they share is permanent (even if they take it down) will encourage them to think about what they post.
- Educate them about online strangers
Predators use the internet to track and contact children. It’s important your child knows who he or she contacts or accepts friend requests from.
How to enforce a safe environment:
- Don’t let your kids on social media until they reach the required age.
- Keep the computer in a public, accessible location where you can see your child’s activity.
- Limit the amount of time your kids can be on social media or online.
- Block location access to all social media apps.
- Adjust the privacy settings to make your child’s account as private as possible.
- Monitor your child’s activity online. Make sure the content they post is harmless with no identifiable features.
Enforce a safe environment. Do not let your kids on social media until they’re old enough. Keep the computer in a public location. Limit the amount of time spent on social media. Block location access to all apps. Adjust the privacy settings. Monitor your child’s online activity.
Our children’s lives have moved online. Unfortunately, their bullies have moved online too.
Cyberbullying comes in many forms: spreading rumours and sending threatening messages via social media, text, or email, pretending to be another child and posting embarrassing material under their name, forwarding private photos without consent, and generally posting online about another child with the intent to humiliate or degrade them.
Cyberbullying is particularly harmful because it is so public. In the past, if a kid was bullied on the playground, perhaps a few of his peers saw. Now, a child’s most private information can be splashed across the internet and is there permanently, and even if reported and taken down, nothing is truly deleted when it comes to the online world.
Cyberbullying can negatively affect the online reputation not only of the victim, but also of the perpetrator, and have a deep impact on that child’s future, including college admissions and employment.
It is also extremely persistent. If a child is the target of traditional bullying, his or her home is more often than not a place of refuge. Because digital platforms are constantly available, victims of cyberbullying struggle to find any relief.
By definition, cyberbullying occurs among young people. (When an adult is involved, it may meet the definition of cyberharassment or cyberstalking, a crime that can have legal consequences.)
The Law Commission says one in 10 New Zealanders have experienced what it calls “harmful communications” on the internet. That number doubles for those aged 19-29. Other research shows that 1 in 3 New Zealand college students experience some form of cyberbullying or harassment2 and 1 in 6 pre-teens.
Even when bullies can be identified, research shows that they, as well as their victims, are often in need of help. 1 in 4 boys who bully others have suicidal thoughts, and this number jumps to 1 in 8 for girls.3
Cyberbullying can be devastating for young people. It contributes to truancy, failure at school and emotional problems such as depression, self-harm and in extreme cases, suicide. Sometimes it can be easy to spot — for example, if your child shows you a cruel text message, tweet, or response to a status update on Facebook. But more often than not your child isn’t going to tell you, so it’s vital to have regular and open conversations with your child.
The vast majority of children today at secondary school and many primary school children carry a mobile phone. The technology of smartphones is making it easier for cyberbullies to not only send text messages, but also send or post online threatening or embarrassing images and video clips. If bullying messages are coming through to a mobile, contact your phone company. Netsafe has plenty of information on how to contact phone companies.
Report the abuse to the provider and ask it to take action. The company should be able to trace the source of the messages and warn the bully that they could lose their number and/or access to the network if they continue.
If you think someone at school is bullying your child, contact the principal as soon as possible. The Education Act 1998 includes National Administrative Guideline 5, which says schools are to provide a “safe physical and emotional environment for students”. This includes dealing with behaviour such as cyberbullying that occurs out of school but has implications for student well-being while at school.
It’s often very difficult to tell if your child is being bullied online. It happens online, so parents and teachers are less likely to overhear or notice it. Fewer than half of children bullied online tell their parents or another adult what they are going through, according to internet safety organization i-SAFE. In fact, according to a recent survey of nearly 750 young people, by Otago-based group Sticks’n’Stones, a third of children aged 11 to 18 had experienced online bullying in that same year.
The best way to prevent cyberbullying or to stop it in its tracks is to be aware of your child’s behaviour. A number of warning signs may present themselves.
Advice for parents
As a parent, you need to know what’s happening in your children’s online world, and understand it as best you can. Know what devices they have, what sites they’re visiting and who they’re talking to. Talk to them about the importance of privacy and why it’s a bad idea to share personal information, even with friends.
- Tell younger children to be careful who they give their mobile number to and to not pass on friends’ numbers without asking them first.
- Remind children not to respond to texts from people they don’t know. In some cases, bullies send out random texts and wait to see who responds.
- Remind them to change passwords regularly and tell no-one what they are.
- Always think about whether something you send might make another person feel uncomfortable. Whether it’s a “joke” or something about another person, be aware that it might be taken the wrong way or sent on to someone else. If in doubt, don’t send it.
- Talk with your child about how images, if posted online or sent on a mobile phone, could get sent on to others and be used to bully or embarrass them.
It’s not always easy to know when your child is being cyberbullied. Many children don’t say anything because they’re embarrassed or worried that their computer or mobile will be taken away from them. However, there are some signs parents can look out for:
- Emotional distress during or after using the internet or the phone.
- Slipping grades and getting angry at home.
- Changes in mood, behaviour, sleep, or appetite.
- A child who is bullied may shut down their social media account and open a new one.
- Avoiding social situations, even if they enjoyed being social in the past.
- Victims (and perpetrators) of cyberbullying often hide their screen or device when other people come into their vicinity and become cagey about what they do online
- They may become emotionally distressed or withdrawn.
- Ask gentle questions to determine the situation.
- Work with teachers, mentors, and guidance counsellors to get support for your child.
- Encourage your children to share with you if their friends or peers are bullied.
- Talk to your child about cyberbullying and the repercussions of cyber-bullying.
- Clarify that even liking or sharing hurtful content is unacceptable.
- Encourage your child to reach out to others who are bullied and lend support.
- Talk to other parents and encourage them to speak to their children.
What should you do if your child is bullied?
- Understand the problem. NetSafe has created a dedicated cyberbullying – www.cyberbullying.org.nz – which offers practical guidance for young people, parents and caregivers, and teachers and principals who want help to understand and deal with bullying in cyberspace.
- Reassure your child. If they tell you they’ve been cyberbullied, tell them they’ve done the right thing and can trust you with the problem. Don’t take away their technology (young people say the fear of losing access to their computer or mobile phone is one of the reasons they often don’t tell adults).
- Document the bullying. Take screenshots of abusive messages or behaviour. This will help you report the bullying to the relevant authorities.
- Talk to the teachers in school. Make sure they are aware of the situation.
- Report it to the school. You can also report it to the social media or gaming platform where its hosted.
- Contact the police if the bullying involves physical threats or call 111 if you’re concerned about your child’s immediate safety. Making such threats is deemed to be criminal behaviour.
- John Fenaughty, “Challenging Risk: NZ High-school Students’ Activity, Challenge,
Distress, and Resiliency, within Cyberspace” (PhD Thesis, University of Auckland, 2010)
- Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin “Bullying, Cyberbullying and Suicide” (2010)
Privacy and information security
As parents, we are most concerned about the effect of the online world on our children’s emotional and physical well-being. Children are susceptible to information security threats that can cause financial harm. These are the exact same threats that adults face: malware and viruses, phishing scams, and identity theft.
The issue is children are far less experienced and are generally far more trusting than us cynical adults. To kids, sharing their personal details, like their full name or where they live, may not seem like such a big deal. They may even be tricked by a malicious third party into sharing your credit card details.
There are a number of ways that hackers and thieves can get information out of children. Free downloadable games, movies, or even ringtones that market themselves to children can place viruses onto your computer and steal your information.
Hackers posing as legitimate companies like Google send emails purporting to ask for your child’s password. Or, they may pose as one of your children’s friends.
What should you communicate to your child?
- Have a discussion with your kids about the big threats online today. Make sure they know what a phishing attack and a disreputable games website looks like, so they know not to fall for these scams.
- Make sure they keep all of their information private and that they never publish their full name, phone number, address, or school they attend in a public place.
- Talk to your kids about passwords. Having a strong password is the first and best measure to prevent hacking and identity theft. Using a secure password generator is great for this occasion, and trying out passwords together is a fun way of ensuring your child’s password is as strong as possible.
- Tell your kids to avoid using public wifi – this is an easy way for hackers to get into their devices.
What you can do to create a safe environment:
- Install a strong antivirus program on your home computer and the devices of all family members.
- Think about installing a VPN on your computer. A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts your connection and anonymizes your web browsing. This makes it far harder for hackers to access and steal your private information.
- If you and your kids use a lot of different devices around the house, consider installing a VPN on your router. That way, all internet traffic that goes through the router will be protected, without having to install the VPN on every device.
- Install an ad blocker so your children won’t have to face deceptive advertising that encourages them to download malicious programs onto your computer.
- If your kids have smartphones, make sure that their security settings are set to maximum.
Viewing inappropriate content online
Because the internet is so open and public, it is also a place where kids can stumble upon content intended for adults, content which they may find upsetting, confusing or distressing. “Inappropriate content” can mean many things to many different people, from swearing to violence to things of a sexual nature.
It’s not easy, but eventually, you will need to have a conversation with your children about what they might see online. Many children don’t go to their parents when they see something they perhaps shouldn’t have seen, for fear that their parents will be angry at them, and take away their devices or internet access.
If your child comes to you with this type of issue, the best thing to do is to respond calmly and be open to discussion. If the content under discussion is sexual, your child will likely be embarrassed already, particularly when talking to their parents about these kinds of issues.
Let them know you are there for them and are ready to answer any questions without judgment.
Young people may see sexual content online for all kinds of reasons. They may have seen it by mistake, a friend might have sent it to them, or they may have sought it out themselves out of natural curiosity.
It helps a great deal to talk to your kids honestly and frankly about sex, and a discussion about online pornography is a crucial part. A lot of research has shown that pornography can have a detrimental effect on young people, giving them distorted and unhealthy notions about sex. Pornography can also lead people to think of others as objects, rather than people with thoughts and feelings. At the same time, it’s totally normal to be curious about sex and relationships. This conversation is a great opportunity to direct your kids to positive resources about sexuality.
There are also a number of steps you can take to try to prevent your kids from being exposed to content they’re not ready for, like setting up parental controls on your internet connection. Remember, though, that technical fixes can’t replace open communication with your child.
Communicate with your child:
- Let your kids know that they can always come to you if something is bothering them, or if they have questions about anything they have seen online.
- Let them know that it’s totally normal to be curious about sex. Direct them to positive online resources like Brook and Thinkuknow. Thinkuknow is particularly good for younger children, and it includes different, age-appropriate sites for different age groups. You may find it helpful to look through the site together and discuss some of the issues.
Steps you can take to block inappropriate content:
- Set filters to block inappropriate content like pornography. Your ISP (internet service provider) should provide free parental controls, as should most gaming consoles. These are usually pretty easy to set up.
- Set Google to “safe” mode so that your children won’t inadvertently see inappropriate content in search results.
- Install an ad blocker to prevent viruses that might have inappropriate content.
In this blog post, we take a look at the darkest and scariest online threat of all: online child predators. According to the US Department of Justice, 13% of young people with internet access have been the victims of unwanted sexual advances, and one in 25 children have been solicited for offline contact.
Predators engage in a practice called “grooming”. In other words, they attempt to form a relationship with a child with the intention of later abusing them.
The internet has made life a lot easier for child predators. Predators target their victims through any and all online mediums: social media, email, text messages, and more. By far the most common method, however, is via an online chatroom: 76% of online encounters with sexual predators begin in a chat room.
13% of kids with internet access are victims of sexual advances.
Communicate with your child about the dangers of sexual predators.
Predators often create multiple online identities, posing as children to trick kids into talking to them. They discover as much as they can about the children they are targeting by researching those children through their social media profiles, and what they have posted on chatrooms.
They may contact a number of children at once but tend to concentrate their efforts on the most vulnerable. These predators aren’t satisfied with merely chatting with children online. They frequently trick or coerce their victims into online sexual activity, via webcam or by sending sexual images. They may also attempt to meet and abuse their victims in person.
It’s not always easy to tell if a child is being groomed, particularly because most keep it a secret from their parents. There are a number of warning signs: children who are being groomed by predators may become very secretive because the predator often threatens the child not to share information with their parents or friends. Children can also become sad and withdrawn, distracted, and have sudden mood swings. It is absolutely crucial to let your child know that you are there for them and that they can talk to you about anything.
What should you communicate to your child?
- Have a discussion with your child about the risks of online predators. Make sure they know to be careful about who they talk to online, and not to share any personal information with strangers.
- Tell your kids that they can come to you with any problem, no matter what it is.
- Think about working through some educational content with your children relating to this topic, like the excellent videos at Thinkuknow.
- If you think that your child is at risk, seek support from their school, a social worker, and the police.
Nudes and sexting
What is 'sexting’?
Sexting is more commonly used for sending sexual messages but can also include:
- naked pictures or ‘nudes’
- ‘underwear shots’
- sexual or ‘dirty pics’
- sexual text messages or videos.
The sending of nude or sexually explicit images is a big issue affecting young people. Whilst sending nude images is not something new, with new digital technologies it’s much easier for these images to be shared beyond the original recipient.
As a parent it’s important to speak with your children about the potential risks in sharing a nude image. Similarly, it’s also important to discuss issues of consent and the implications of sharing a nude image of someone else as this can be considered an offence.
How common is it?
Research in New Zealand suggests that the rates of young people sharing nude images of themselves are relatively low (just 4% of young people aged between 14-17 surveyed had done so). What is more common however is pressure to share these images, with 1 in 5 young people having been asked to send a nude image. This is an alarming amount of expectation on our teenagers to send this content, which can be extremely damaging to their mental health and safety if shared. It’s important that as parents we teach our children that it isn’t actually as common as they might think and if they do get asked to they have every right to say no. Provide them with support and advice that isn't emotionally charged and remind them of the dangers they face if they do decide to send photos.
What are the risks?
Once you send an image to someone else it’s more difficult to control what might happen to it. Sharing naked or semi naked content, even in a trusted relationship, can cause issues. The images or videos could be widely reposted or shared as a “joke”, as a relationship ends or as friends become angry with each other. There are also situations where people blackmail others into sending more intimate images, by threatening to release the original image/video online if they don’t send more. It’s important that your child is aware that there are risks involved with sharing intimate images or videos.
A good way to help minimise the risk harm to your child if they do send a nude image and something goes wrong is to make a plan with your child ahead of time. This plan could cover who they would talk to if something goes wrong, discussing ways to report and remove harmful online content and more.
Why do people send nude images?
People send nudes for lots of reasons. These could be:
- Feeling like ‘everyone else is doing it’ even if they’re not – especially if they’re exaggerating about sending photos or boasting about having them on their phone. Research in NZ shows that although a lot of young people have been asked for nudes, only a small number have actually sent one.
- Going along with things they’re uncomfortable with because they’re worried about being seen as ‘not sexy’ or ‘shy’.
- Being bullied, threatened or blackmailed into sending pictures.
- Wanting someone’s approval or for someone to like them.
- Thinking they ‘owe’ their boyfriend or girlfriend or being made to feel guilty.
- Being in love with the person and trusting them completely.
- Having a long-distance or online relationship with someone and wanting to have a sexual relationship with them.
- Feeling proud of their body and wanting to share it with other people.
How do I prevent my child from sending nudes?
Young people will often learn about the concept of a ‘digital footprint’ at primary school – what you share, post or publish online becomes part of your digital record as it can be very hard to get information removed from online platforms and to clean up your personal profile. Talk to your kids about the risks of sharing personal information and sexual images and what can happen to those photos or videos once created and shared. Teach them how to use privacy settings to lock down social media accounts, restricting who can view your profile online and being cautious about sharing images.
My child has received nudes they didn't want. What should I do?
Being sent a nude image they didn’t ask for can be upsetting. Teach your child to talk to a trusted adult about the message they were sent.
You can report the content or block the person from contacting your child again. This will stop them from sending more inappropriate pictures. If your child is underage and the person sending it is older, then this is a crime and the best thing to do is collect as much evidence as you can (screenshots etc.) and go to the Police. Remember that even though the age of consent in NZ is 16, any illicit photos of somebody under 18 is considered child porn. If they are the same age you can do a number of things:
- Call Netsafe for free advice on 0508 638 723
- Ask the person to stop sending nudes
- Your child can let the person know that it makes them feel uncomfortable and that they should have asked for consent before sending them
- Block the profile/account of the person who sent it
- Report the profile/account of the person who sent it
- Block the phone number of the person by contacting your phone provider (E.g. Spark, Vodafone etc.)
- If your child is being harassed by someone constantly sending unsolicited nudes, you can contact Netsafe for advice
- Inform the parents of the child who sent the photos if you feel comfortable enough to or you can let the school know and they can handle it.
My child sent a nude image to someone and they have shared it with others, or are threatening to do so. What should I do?
If content has been shared on an online platform you should:
- Get your child to screenshot the content if possible for proof of the crime.
- Immediately report the content to the platform that it’s on (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc.)
- Report the profile/account of the person who shared the content to the platform (e.g. Facebook, Twitter etc.)
- Contact Netsafe to report the content and discuss the options available to you – call toll-free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
It’s illegal to share someone’s nude images, sharing someone’s nude or intimate images or videos online is called image-based abuse (sometimes also referred to as ‘revenge porn') and it can be an offence under New Zealand law. Image-based abuse can be an offence under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, as well as a potential offence under other Acts. It can also be an offence to threaten to share images or videos without consent. It can still be an offence if the person originally shared or made the images/video with someone consensually, but they didn’t give consent for them to be shared to a wider group or publicly.
If prosecuted under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, the penalties for this offence can be a fine of up to $50,000 or up to two years’ jail for an individual and up to $200,000 for a body corporate. The majority of the criminal prosecutions for the Harmful Digital Communications Act in its first 18 months were for image-based abuse incidents.
You should contact Netsafe for help if this has happened to your child.
My child has shared an image of someone else. What should I do?
If you become aware that your child has shared a nude image of someone else you should contact Netsafe as soon as possible for advice on what to do next.
Sharing nude images without consent is a serious issue and can be a crime in New Zealand. There may be different rules and laws that apply depending on the age of the person whose image has been shared and the age of the person who shared the image.
Some important facts that are worth trying to find out prior to calling Netsafe may include:
- How many people was the image sent to?
- To you or your child’s knowledge, has the image spread further than who they originally sent it to?
- Where did the image come from? How did your child obtain the image?
- Who is the person in the image?
Netsafe can review the situation with you and give you advice on the steps you should take. Each situation is different and Netsafes’ team is on hand to provide information and support.
I've found naked photos on my child's phone. What should I do?
As a parent, you may be shocked to find this content on your child’s device, however, it’s important to try and keep your emotions from clouding your judgement whatever your initial internal reaction may be. The best way to respond is to use the discovery as a starting point for having a conversation with your child about sharing nude images. See the section below about forming an online safety plan for if something goes wrong.
Online safety plan
It can be difficult to know where to start when thinking about keeping your children safe from harm online. Speaking with your children early about ways to stay safe online and what you’d both do if something were to go wrong is one of the best ways to help them navigate online challenges. It’s important that you and your child make this plan together so that both of you understand what to do if something goes wrong or they need help.
1. Figure out what they know already
The best place to start the conversation is by figuring out what your child knows already. Talk to them about issues they’ve seen happen to friends or at school and use this as a basis for your discussions with them. Ask them what advice they would give to their friend if they ran into trouble online, this can be a good way to gauge their understanding. Use these discussions as the starting point for the plan you develop together.
2. Let them know that you will support them no matter what
Research shows that many young people feel they would rather speak to a friend than a parent or other trusted adult for fear of being judged. It’s important to let them know that they can talk to you about anything and that you will be there to support them no matter what.
3. Talk about who they can reach out to if they need help
If something does go wrong online it’s important that your child speaks to someone about it. Discuss who might be appropriate for them to speak to if they need help. This could be you, a close friend, a trusted family member, a teacher or a support service such as Netsafe.
It’s also a good idea to talk about who they would talk to if they didn’t feel comfortable talking to you, that way you know whatever goes wrong they know who they can go to for help and support.
4. Discuss ways to report or remove harmful content
Most social media sites have a ‘report’ function to allow people to report content that is in violation of their terms of service. Make sure your child knows how to block someone, report content and how to use their privacy settings.
If you or your child need help to remove harmful content online you can contact Netsafe for help. They can offer help for all situations – big or small.
5. Have emergency contact details on hand in case you need it
As a parent, it can be hard to think about things going very wrong for your child online. In case of an urgent situation, it’s worth having an understanding of what services are available and when you should contact them just in case. We’ve put together a list of services you can turn to if you or your child need help.
If your child is at risk of imminent danger or a crime is being committed contact the police on 111 immediately for help.
If a crime has already happened you can call 105 (the non-emergency number for Police).
Social media safety centres
Facebook - www.facebook.com/safety/tools/safety
Snapchat - www.snapchat.com/l/en-gb/safety
Instagram - https://help.instagram.com/285881641526716
Special thanks to vpnMentor for providing us with information for this educational resource.