On 18 October 2017 Nicholes Family Lawyers hosted a night for school executives and principals to have an open Q & A discussion with an experienced panel about the contemporary issues effecting children’s safety, particularly in the context of the internet and information sharing devices. There were representatives from schools from a cross section of Melbourne and the greater region sharing stories of how their students have been affected.
The panel was led by Lesley Podesta from the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, Nick Duggal from Moray & Agnew Lawyers, Senior Detectives from Victoria Police and our own Sally Nicholes who each provided their different but interlinked perspectives on the issue.
As the rise of smart phones, social media and information sharing applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the chat functions on gaming machines continues to climb, unsurprisingly the safety risks for children are also increasing at a rate which the law cannot always keep up with. There are new offences being regularly created by our legislature to keep up with the types of inappropriate behaviour occurring via the internet which bring risks to children of all ages such as online bullying, sexting, identity theft and in more serious cases sexual exploitation. The reality is that children are accessing technology from ages as young as 4 years old with minimal adult supervision.
Exposure of a child to any of the risks associated with using technology can have devastating effects on their mental and physical wellbeing however the expert advice is to not prohibit children from participating in using technology, as this can have further and unintended ramifications for the children, and can push these issues underground. Put simply, a child is more likely to avoid speaking up about any inappropriate behaviour they have been exposed to if they are fearful of being punished for oversharing their information or having the very tool that socially connects them confiscated.
The salient advice proffered is that the parents, teachers and children need to work together to educate each other of the risks of technology and offer ways in which children can be cyber safe. All participants of the discussion agreed that the focus should be on implementing education programs in schools at an early age such as the eSmart program and establishing firm standards for educators such as the Child Safe Standards.
In the words of Lesley Podesta this is “the child safety risk of the modern era” so it is fundamentally important for the safety and wellbeing of our children that parents, teachers and children are confronting this contemporary issue together and promoting education over punishment.