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Keeping Kids Safe Online with Susan McLean

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Keeping children safe online is a concern for every parent. Children can have a technical skill that is far more advanced than their cognitive development and it is not easy to know how and what boundaries to set. 

Today’s guest is Susan McLean. Susan is Australia’s foremost expert in the area of cyber safety and was a member of Victoria Police for 27 years. Widely known as The Cyber Cop, she was the first Victoria police officer appointed to a position involving cyber safety and young people. In 2003, she was a Victoria Police Region 4 Youth Officer of the Year. She has also been awarded the National Medal and Victoria Police Service Medal. Susan established a consulting firm in March 2007 called Cyber Safety Solutions and has grown to be the most highly respected and in demand cyber safety consultancy in Australia.

Show Notes:

  • [1:21] – Susan shares her background in law enforcement and her first online appointment was in 1994.
  • [2:17] – She was led to America in her quest to learn as much as she could about cyber safety. The training she was a part of was The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Team training and more trainings in Texas.
  • [3:35] – When Susan returned to Australia, she outlined a plan of action for law enforcement in Australia.
  • [4:14] – When Susan’s support retired, she lost all internal support at that time. Others claimed she was making things up to create a job opportunity and that because she was a woman, she couldn’t do this job.
  • [5:07] – Susan quit her job because she became passionate about this concern and took a risk in developing her own consultant agency. She works extensively with schools, parents, and teachers.
  • [6:46] – Now, law enforcement takes cyber crime more seriously.
  • [7:51] – Susan says that although there is acknowledgement of cyberbullying and online safety issues, there is still a lack of training of front line police officers.
  • [8:50] – Susan describes JACKET teams in Australia and how it works in her country.
  • [9:30] – The amount of arrests is phenomenal, but Susan would much rather there were no arrests because we can educate young people to not fall victim to these types of crimes.
  • [10:27] – Susan shares that most arrests are made within Australia but that there are international crime gangs specifically in sex trafficking and sexual exploitation that are elsewhere.
  • [12:08] – The statistics in Australia show that a quarter of all teens have been cyber bullied at some point. This can mean a lot of different things. It’s almost always an extension of schoolyard bullying.
  • [12:47] – Nude photos are also prominent and fit the definition of child exploitation offenses.
  • [13:58] – To be an effective parent in the 21st century, you have to parent in the digital space.
  • [14:43] – The internet is 100% an adult world that you are putting your child into. Risks cannot be removed but you can identify and limit the risk with boundaries for your child.
  • [15:18] – Young people’s technical skill far outweighs their cognitive and brain development. There is a massive gap between what they can actually do and what they can understand.
  • [16:29] – Susan explains that if your child is under 13, you should be in complete control over everything your child does online.
  • [17:33] – Start with one platform that you can manage when you feel they are ready for it. Constant monitoring and parent judgement on maturity is necessary.
  • [19:01] – Susan recommends having a rule in place that you will check all accounts and devices a certain number of random days per month.
  • [20:33] – Checking lists of friends and contacts, the child has to explain who they are to the parent’s expectations. If you can’t invite them over for dinner, they don’t belong on their list.
  • [21:55] – Susan shares how the majority of in-person sexual abuse or exploitation are with people the victim knows. But online, the majority are people who are unknown to the child or teen.
  • [23:02] – If you are familiar with the person and are unsure if it is their real account, ask them.
  • [24:27] – Parents also need to have conversations prior to online use to make sure their children are not being the ones doing the bullying.
  • [25:45] – If you are the caretaker of any child or minor, you have to be aware that they are targets.
  • [26:03] – Susan explains that the majority of inappropriate photos are taken in bedrooms and bathrooms with the doors closed. She shares examples of ways a parent can prohibit devices with cameras in those rooms.
  • [27:48] – Especially during Covid, the limitation of devices and children online became difficult.
  • [28:28] – One of the biggest mistakes parents make is giving their child or teen a phone thinking it will keep them safe. They are handy, but they are not safety devices.
  • [30:18] – Susan also lists the other issues that come with extensive use of electronic devices, including posture, muscular and skeletal problems, and eye strain.
  • [32:27] – Every adult has a responsibility to keep children safe on and offline. 
  • [34:34] – Susan recommends several websites for parent and child education on cyber safety that include games and kid friendly language.
  • [37:59] – Susan is also the author of Sexts, Texts, and Selfies which is an internationally available book. The only changes based on the country are the laws and legislation.
  • [40:12] – It is everywhere no matter the crime. Cyber safety is absolutely crucial.

Thanks for joining us on Easy Prey. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and leave a nice review. 

Transcript:

My background is in law enforcement. I was a police officer in Melbourne for 27 years. I took my first report of cyberbullying in 1994. I’ve been dealing with the internet for 26 years. I predate Google, which the kids in school think is hysterical, because was there a world before Google? But there was. There were bulletin boards and chat rooms and that was about it.

When I took that first report of cyberbullying, I was quite surprised. Victoria Police, at that point, were not connected to the internet, so there was no internet connection at work. I certainly had the internet at home—didn’t really use it because there was no reason to use it. It wasn’t like it is now. It sparked an interest in that if young people had already worked out how to misuse it and I was still struggling to use it, then there’s going to be a disconnect. We know that young people certainly were the early adopters of social use of technology. I started to do some research and training and looking at where I could go to be skilled in this. It led me to America.

I connected with a fabulous ex-law enforcement guy called Brad Russ. He’s from the University of New Hampshire. I came over to America. I came to Rochester in Upstate New York and I did some training over there. This is the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Team Training that is provided for law enforcement in the States and FBI. I did that training. Then I went down to Dallas, Texas, because Dallas hosts the best child safety conference in the world. I’ve been to that many times now. I did my training there then came back to Australia. I was the first police officer in Victoria who was given a position looking at safety in young people.

Up until then, police had focused on the child exploitation angle. Certainly not to the successful degree that they do now, but that’s really the only area of kids being online that they were looking at. I was allowed to establish a project team. We conducted 12 months of research that looked at the issue from all different angles and then provided recommendations to the Victoria Police about what they should be doing moving forward.

I really wanted them to develop something similar to the ICAC program because that, to me, was fabulous. It was relatively new when I first went to the States. Now it’s been widened, of course—it’s everywhere. The thing I liked about that was that it was holistic. It was a one-stop shop. You didn’t have to have victims tracing to all different places or different people when something traumatic had occurred. I did that. Unfortunately, the police officer that was supporting my initiative retired, I lost the internal support that I had. Then it became quite toxic in that this was my passion and I was being stepped on or stomped on at every turn.

I had high-ranking police officers say to me, “You have invented cyberbullying to create a job opportunity for yourself. My kids never heard about it; it doesn’t exist.” The best one was that “You’re blonde and female, and you don’t have much going for you.” That’s the issue with working in a hierarchy or male-dominated organizations. That’s fine. I put up with it for a while and then I started to realize that this was a concern. And, for me, like, I still like to catch the bad guy, don’t get me wrong. If I’m catching a bad guy with a child as a victim then it means a child’s been harmed. I worked the other way. I don’t want the kid harmed so there’s no risk.

I took a leap of faith. I quit one day. I just walked in and that’s it, “I’m going.” I had no plan, no nothing. I had a passion and I knew that there was a need for this. I established my own consultancy 11 years ago now, but that’s now growing to be the most in-demand and highly regarded subset to consultancy in Australia, as I mentioned earlier when we were chatting. I’ve been invited to speak in American schools. The BBC flew me over to the UK to present at one of their conferences. I speak internationally every year other than the Covid year, of course.

I love what I do. I work probably 80% of my time in schools with teachers, parents, and students. I also work in elite sports, so I work with Australian Rules football, Australian Test cricketers and then I do elite tennis players, swimmers, netballers. I write policy now. I write resources for education departments. I do a whole lot of stuff and I do a lot of media. I’m often asked to comment on stories in the media. I’ve got a very good working relationship with the main tech companies in the States, so I get updated about changes to their platforms, and I can certainly reach out to them if I need assistance with a serious case. Then, of course, I still help families report serious cyberbullying and child exploitation matters to the police.

Have you seen a significant shift in law enforcement’s belief and willingness to treat online cyber issues with the seriousness that they do in-person physical crimes?

It certainly improved out of sight. In the early days when I started this journey—all police in Australia—state police have a sex crimes unit and that was predominately to deal with physical sexual assaults. What they used to do is if you are investigating some online sexual sort of stuff, if there was a real-life case, you had to leave your online investigation and deal with the in-life one, because that was considered more serious. Certainly, multiple things have happened over the years and it was one of the things that Brad Ross was really keen to do was to try to get some sort of national cooperation to get people trained up. Because if you’re not trained, then you cannot respond.

I was also very lucky—I did the university course from the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom. There’s only two people in Australia that have done that. I’ve done other bits and pieces as well. The things that have changed is this, and are what I say regularly—there is clearly an acknowledgment that cyberbullying and online harms exist and they’re significant. There is sadly still, though, a lack of training for frontline police officers. If you get to the specialist, which you can’t get to if you’re Mrs. Citizen knocking on the counter, you’re fine. But there is still a clear barrier right around Australia with people going in to report online crimes being victim-blamed, what did you expect your own Twitter or just shut your account and that’ll fix the problem.

We’re getting better and it’s a bit like—I call it postcode lottery. You might take your complaint to one police station and it’s done well, another it’s not. Where we have peak goals in Australia is the international cooperation and that is now phenomenal. There’s not a week goes by that we don’t have an arrest here where either the victim or the offender is not in Australia. What we’ve established recently over the last 18 months is called JACET, Joint Anti Child Exploitation Teams. They’re made up of our federal police and our state police working together. They’re not as comprehensive as ICAC, so they don’t have the interviewers and they don’t have the medical staff—the psychologist and all that. It’s state and federal police working together.

That then means that all those international connections, everything that comes out in NCMEC in the States comes through to our federal police here. It used to be divvied out and it was a bit hit and miss. Now, we’ve got this fabulous approach and the amounts of arrests are phenomenal. I would much rather there were no arrests because we could educate young people not to fall victim to these types of crimes.

Yeah, that’s definitely what you want to see, is the prevention happening as opposed to—not that you don’t want people convicted and charged, but definitely if you can get people from never becoming the victim in the first place, it goes a long way.

Absolutely.

Do you see more cross-border versus where you have a victim and a perpetrator in different countries, or is it more domestic where both the victim and the perpetrator are in the same country?

I would say in Australia, it’s within Australia would be the majority of the types of behaviors or the types of criminality. But, because if you think about the international criminal gangs that are working in the area of sextortion, the international child exploitation gangs, Australia becomes a tiny piece of the puzzle where we’re part of an investigation that the FBI’s doing. You’ve got hundreds of arrests in the States. You’ve got hundreds of arrests throughout Europe, hundreds in Australia. For the very high-level stuff, the big international rings obviously, a lot of the offenders are not in Australia, but certainly what has changed for me is that a large number of Australians now are involved in these international child exploitation gangs.

The other one is that we talk about the webcam abuse, where you might be watching. Historically, those victims were in poverty, in third-world countries. They weren’t average Aussie kids or average American kids that they were really highly at risk. That is the shit that I’ve seen that we have got average kids that have been sucked into performing on a webcam. As well as educating young people, we’ve got to get to the parents. Their parents are the gatekeepers to their online safety. They’ve got to make sure that gate is locked as much as it can be.

Let’s talk about the different kinds of activities that you’re seeing. You talked about cyberbullying and harassment and child exploitation, sextortion. Some of those obviously overlap in different ways. Are there other big areas that we should be talking about today in addition to those?

I think in Australia, our statistics are close to a quarter of all teens have been cyberbullied at some point. The cyberbully does take many forms. It can be abusive messages, nasty messages, it can be a humiliation. It can be exclusion. Cyberbullying, and we also know that it is nearly always an extension to schoolyard bullying. It’s starting in the schoolyard and it’s continuing online. We see a lot of the sexual abuse stuff, that by volume, I would put that below the cyberbullying. The other thing that we deal with a lot in Australia, and I’m sure you do in the States as well, is the sharing of nude images. Call it sexting, call it sending a nude, naked selfie, and of course that is very problematic in most places because it fits the legal definition of what is child exploitation material.

Here we have adolescents without a fully formed brain making an impulsive decision but being charged with child exploitation offenses, which is clearly not what the law was written for and not that I ever advocate going through life and showing these photos. What we have to make sure is the laws are fit for purpose. We should not be criminalizing teens unless they are acting with criminal intent. Some teens do, don’t get me wrong. I deal with teens that are vindictive and do share nudes widely that they shouldn’t have. I’m not fussed about that but the consensual sharing of nude images for whatever reason falls into the police’s hands. We need to do better when it comes to dealing with those children.

When you initially talk about parents are the gatekeepers, let’s talk about what parents should be watching for and what they should be doing.

For parents, it’s really important that you understand that to be an effective parent in the 21st century, you have to parent in the digital space. It’s no different, you have rules and boundaries in real life. You have rules and boundaries online. You know where your child is going in real life. You know where they’re going online. It all equates nicely, but there’s this fear about, “Oh my goodness, I can’t do that because I don’t understand that.” You need to understand it. You understand right and wrong, you understand risk and danger, that’s really all you need. You have to be prepared to say no. That’s the key because what I get to deal with is the child that is sucked and winged because everyone else is allowed to do X. Mom and dad give in and then we end up with a mess.

Parents need to be aware that the internet is 100% an adult’s world. It is an adult world you are putting your child into. Can you remove the risk? Absolutely not. You can’t remove the risk, but what you can do is to educate yourself to be able to identify the risk and then, of course, minimize and manage the risk in the best possible way. That is saying no. That is saying, “Hang on a minute. You’re 10. You have to be 13 to have Instagram, and you’re not having it. We’ll talk about this in 3 years’ time.”

It is about being strong because young people’s technical skill far outweighs their cognitive and brain development. They have this massive gap in what they can actually do and what they have the capacity to understand.

I like that, the technical skill outweighs their cognitive skill.

Development, yeah.

Cognitive development. That’s a good perspective. I think a lot of parents are like, “Well, they understand the technology so they know what they’re doing.”

Yeah, or parents say, “They know more than me. My kid knows more than me.” Well yes, except that your child does know more than you about how to put fingers on a device and do something, but that’s all they know. Their brains are not fully formed. They don’t have life experiences, no maturity. They’re adolescents. They’re impulsive, compulsive. They can’t understand risk. They can’t perceive risk. That becomes the perfect storm for something to go terribly wrong.

What are some of the rules and boundaries that parents should be putting in place? Obviously, if your kid’s 10 and Instagram’s terms and conditions state that you have to be 13, we don’t want to be violating that, but should parents just automatically be going, “Well, you’re 13, you’re on Instagram, do whatever you want.”

No. What I always say to parents is obviously if your child is under 13, you should be in control of everything that they’re doing. They shouldn’t be allowed to download apps. It also goes through the family sharing account on Apple or the Google Play account where mom and dad are in control. We want you to know what your child might be exposed to, where they’re going so that you can go, “Hang on a minute. You’ve asked to download this app. I had a look at it. It’s totally inappropriate.” Common sense media says avoid at all costs. We’re not going to go there.

Of course, the one thing you’re going to check is the age. Up until the age of the platform, the conversation can simply be, “I’ve checked it out. The platform’s rules state you can’t be there. As a family we don’t lie, we don’t break rules. It’s a no.” There are, of course, mature 13-year-olds and immature 19-year-olds. It doesn’t mean that the day they turn 13 they can log on to this platform. That’s when the conversation can start about whether or not the platform is suitable for what you want your child exposed to. What I always say to parents: start with one. Start with one that you can manage and then, of course, the best predictor of your child’s future behavior is past behavior.

If you have a kid that lurches from poor decision to poor decision, easily led, then you’re going to err on the side of perhaps no. If you’ve got a child that routinely makes good choices, you can sort of go yes. But remembering good kids can make a poor choice. Don’t think I can trust my kids. They’re fine, especially when it comes to peer pressure. When it comes to sexual exploitation, the people peddling this are far more clever than your kid will ever be, unfortunately. It is about being there with them, being an active participant in their online life.

How active does that mean? Is that constantly looking over their shoulder watching every swap and key click?

No, because if you do that, you will give yourself a stomach ulcer. You’ll give yourself eye strain, no. I always call it like a

watching breath. Again, I want you to know your kids’ passcodes and passwords. I want you to get into their accounts in case of emergency. I certainly don’t want you reading every keystroke—I think that’s stupid. There has to be a level of trust, but trust has to be earned. What I always advocate is you can have a rule that four times per month, twice a month, I’m going to check your device. It’s not the same day every month because you don’t want the kid knowing when this might happen.

It’s basically getting in, scrolling, making sure there’s nothing untoward there, moving on. Not reading everything. As I say to the kids, “There’s a big difference to stuff that, perhaps, you don’t want mom to see, because you’re talking about the hot boy at school, to stuff that is illegal and criminal and highly inappropriate.” If it’s that second thing, it shouldn’t be on the internet in the first place. The last person you should be worrying about finding it is mom out there for the rest of the world.

It’s about knowing your child. It is about being the world’s best expert on your own child so that you can notice subtle changes in their behavior, in their demeanor, in their friendship group, in their academic progress and investigate that because, historically, you didn’t have to factor internet issues into those changes. Some of them are purely just adolescent changes. Some of them are because your child failed a test and they didn’t put in well enough and they’re beating themselves up. Sometimes it’s because of an online issue.

My advice to parents is trust your instincts. You are the adult. If something bothers you in any way, shape or form, investigate. It may turn out to be nothing but it may turn out to be something and the earlier you can jump on online issues, the better the outcome for everyone.

Would that include on any type of social media accounts, looking at who their friends are and saying, “Do you know this other child,” and asking them? “I don’t know this Robert. Is he from your school?” What are the red flags there?

Yeah. I always say that regularly, they need to check their children’s lists, game list, contact list, phone list, chat list, whatever list you can find someone on. The people on that list, the child has to explain that to your satisfaction, not to the kids’ satisfaction. “Mom, Robert is a guy I met on holidays, brother’s best friend’s cousin’s neighbor.” “Is that so? I never met him.” My advice is if you can’t invite this person home for dinner, they are gone, because I get to deal with lots of issues around friends of friends.

“Who is this person that’s harassing you online?” “I don’t know.” “Why is he on your Insta?” “Well, I added him.” “Why did you add him?” “Because he was Sarah’s friend.” “Sarah, who’s Robert?” “I don’t know. I added him because he was Eve’s friend.” “Eve, who’s Robert?” “I don’t know. I added him because he was Tom’s friend.” “Tom, who’s Robert?” “I don’t know.” What we know is that the cyberbullying issue is usually peer-to-peer. It’s not one random person going to cyberbully your child.

The sexual predation side of it is normally the opposite of it in real life. In real life, we know that the majority of people that sexually abused children are already known to them. They’re within the family, the extended family, the neighborhood, the sports club. But online, the majority of these people are not known to the child in real life. You can reduce almost 90% of risk if you are making sure that your children are only talking to people that they actually know and trust. That’s about identifying the risk, minimizing and managing it.

I guess you often hear kids saying, “Well, I’m pretty sure that it’s Sarah’s friend or Billy’s friend. I think I know who they are.” How do you deal with accounts where it is someone pretending to be another kid?

Actually that’s what you will never know, because you don’t know. You might accept a friend request of Sally Smith because there is actually a Sally Smith in your class and then it turns out that it is a fake account. There’s usually some things about how many followers I have, who else is on the account. If you actually know the person, you can always check. You can always say, “I added you last night and is it your account?” I know that it’s double-checking but often you really need to because I’ve dealt with cases where kids have set up Instagram accounts in other kids’ names and then use those to solicit nude photos, or use those to cyberbully, to deflect blame and to get some other kid in trouble.

It is about not taking it at face value. I had this really robust discussion with a grade six boy the other day. In Australia grade 6 is 11 and 12. He said, “But I know the person I’m talking to is Bill Smith.” And I said, “But how do you know?” He said, “Because he told me that was his name.” I said, “But how do you know?” He said, “Because he’s 12 and he looks 12.” I said, “But how do you know? How do you know?” Because I think kids just do. There’s an adult, there’s a kid, why would they lie to me? Kids are inherently trusting. That’s why people who want to harm them have such success.

Yeah. Flipping it around, what do parents of cyberbullying kids do if they find out that their kid is harassing other kids online?

That’s a huge shock to find out that your child is bullying other kids on or offline. What I always say is as much as parents need to protect the children online from the bad stuff, they also need to make sure that their children are not engaging online in a way that is inappropriate. It is about having the conversations prior about what is acceptable, what is right, what is wrong, just going over and over again. I always say talk early, talk often. It’s never too early to start. It’s never too late to start, but the earlier you start, the better.

When you’re checking those devices occasionally, if you’re seeing your child has been disrespectful online, you need to call it out. If they’re being racist or homophobic, you need to call it out. The same as I would expect you to call it out if it was happening in real life. Your online persona and experience should be a mirror of who and what you are in real life.

Do the same rules apply with the sextortion that you’ve run across and the child exploitation? Now, we’re talking internationally and people that are already impoverished and in difficult situations to begin with.

The ones that are impoverished, it’s very hard to educate their way out of it because often they’re not in school, or they don’t have parents or guardians to protect them. The gatekeeper is gone and it’s up to them. That makes it very difficult. If you are caring for a child in any way, shape, or form, be aware that there are people out there that want to prey on them. If you look at opportunities to participate in this sort of criminality or to become a victim, we know that these images and videos are not taken in front of mom and dad. They’re not taken in the kitchen. They’re not taken in the family room while we’re watching TV. They are always taken in bedrooms and bathrooms.

How do we reduce that risk? We make sure devices with cameras and internet connections are never in bedrooms and bathrooms. I know it’s hard because kids want to listen to music in the shower, then you walk up to Best Buy and buy a bluetooth speaker. It’s their alarm clock, no. You can head up to Target and get an alarm clock. Kids will have an excuse—you’ve got to counteract that. There was a really comprehensive study done in the UK by the Internet Watch Foundation that looked at over 2000 cases of webcam sexual abuse. They found that in over 90% of those cases, they were all filmed in bedrooms and bathrooms where mom and dad couldn’t see, basically.

If you expand that rule or you think about it, if you’ve got a hormonal teenager at home, they’re not going to be able to send the nude to their friend at school because the device is not anywhere that this can happen. Now, could they do it in the toilet at school? Of course, they could if the school doesn’t have rules about phones and all of that. Remember we can’t remove the risk. It’s about reducing it to the best of our ability. If there’s no way that that child can take those nude photos at home, it’s less likely it’s going to happen because there’s limited places in public that they can do it.

Yeah, you’re never going to be entirely able to eliminate risk but it’s a matter of reducing it.

Yeah, to the best of your ability. The thing I say to parents, I get these parents all the time, if only, or what if? They knew they should have said no. They knew they should have done more. It was all too hard for a variety of reasons and I get that. Especially during Covid, life is different and it’s difficult. Then they beat themselves up, because if only they’ve taken that device off of them at 9 o’clock at night, rather than have it all night, we would not be sitting at the police station. That is the harsh reality.

Do you think there’s a particular age that it’s appropriate for kids to start having their own phone or not having their own phone prior to?

As in owning a phone if you like? I think one of the things some parents do wrong is they give their child a phone believing it’s going to keep them safe. Phones are not safety items. They’re handy to text you to say that, “I’ve missed the bus,” or “Sport training’s been canceled,” or whatever. They’re not going to keep your child safe because by the time—this is a horrible example, but it’s real—someone comes along, wants to grab your child, for example, they’re not going to say to that person, “Can you hang on while I get out my safety phone and text mom?” It’s not going to happen.

How young is too young to have your own phone?

Don’t give the phone over thinking it’s going to keep your child safe. I get the argument, “But I can track their movements on it.” Yeah you can, but if you’ve got really little kids, you should know where they are anyway. You shouldn’t need to track them. I call that parenting by remote. Not an advocate for that. Handy is all it is. In Australia, what we tend to see is children—our schooling system obviously is a little bit different, we just have primary and secondary. Primary is from the very start of school up until the time you’re 12, so seven years of schooling. Secondary school, we call it year seven to year 12.

Most Australian children will get a phone to start secondary school for the simple reason that a lot of them will then start to travel on public transport to school, so handy. After-school sports will happen and all of those sorts of things. There are certainly children in primary schools that have phones. I personally do not see any valid reason for that because there is none. Basically, if your kid is a dick at school, you go to the office and they ring mom and dad. There’s not a reason for that but that’s what we’re seeing here. Around that end of primary school moving into secondary is when most kids get phones.

Maybe it applies to laptops in bedrooms and desktops.

There’s gaming consoles in bedrooms, but there are a whole lot of things. There’s a safety issue because you can’t adequately supervise in a bedroom. It’s impossible. It doesn’t matter who you are. There are the issues with screen time. Then there are the postural issues and the musculoskeletal issues and the eye issues and a whole lot of things that need to be addressed. These devices need to be in common areas of the house so it becomes part of the family, not some kid in isolation in the bedroom. It never ends well.

In my circle of friends, the common philosophy is all electronic devices stay in family areas. They don’t go in the bedroom, they don’t go in the bathrooms. You do your homework in the family room with the other kids doing their homework.

Yeah, and it’s tough. It’s really hard. Especially if you’ve got one yappy kid that just wants to distract everyone else, and the dog’s barking and the baby’s crying—I get how hard it is. You’ve got to look at the alternative. The alternative to me is that I would be putting my child at risk. There is no issue however with a laptop going to a bedroom without internet connection. Not much fun can happen there. Again, if you’ve got your house set up where you can turn the WiFi off or you can block it from certain devices, then the older child can sit in the bedroom and type an essay. That’s not a problem.

I say to parents I can give any parent a template to take and use in their house because everyone is different. Families are different. They’re structurally different houses, they’re made up of different kids. I know kids that will hack into a neighbor’s network when mom and dad turn their own off. If you’ve got Harry the hacker at home, you’re going to have to do better. If you’ve got a compliant Chris, so it depends.

That’s very good. Are there things that teachers and clergy and kind of peripheral—people that are interacting with kids that they should be watching out for to be able to identify kids at risk or that might fall victim?

For me, every adult in the world has a responsibility to keep all children safe on and offline. If you are working in junior sport, if you are working in a church, a church youth group, if you’re the dance teacher, the athletics coach or whatever you are, to me, you have a responsibility. You also should be ensuring that your practices are child-safe, so that you’re not putting the kids at risk with putting pictures of them on the internet without consent and all that sort of stuff. You should be operating under a child-safe framework.

In Australia, this is law. We’ve got a legal framework that says that all these organizations that work with children legally must exhibit the fact that they’re child-safe. Then again, it is about educating those people about what abuse looks like, how it might manifest itself. The most important thing is that open and honest communication because what we do know is about 80% of kids won’t tell a parent or another trusted adult if they’re having an online issue because they’re fearful of the outcome. Even if they’ve done nothing wrong.

Making sure that these key people in children’s lives are other than mom and dad, guardian. Those kids know that I’m here to teach dance, or I’m here to teach you baseball. But you know what, buddy? If you’ve got a problem, you know you can come to me. I’ve got your back. I think we need to do more of that so that they might not be able to prevent something, because they’re not with their child in the home environment, but they can certainly act on it because the child feels confident to tell.

That’s good. Are there resources that people can find online for setting these systems in place and finding frameworks for what is and isn’t appropriate for any particular age group?

There’s a lot of good resources, but like the internet, you’ve gotta wade through them and try to find something that’s remotely useful. If you have no base knowledge, you’re not going to know if what you’re reading is correct or not because you’re coming from really low knowledge. I refer Australian families to NCMEC and NetSmartz because they have awesome resources and they have lots of games that kids can play. They’re playing a computer game but they’re learning an online safety lesson. NetSmartz and NCMEC do good stuff there.

In Australia, we’re the only country in the world that has a federal government department devoted to online safety in young people—the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. Now, all those resources are available worldwide. The only thing that Americans can’t utilize is the reporting function. The same as I couldn’t—I can report to NCMEC but any localized reporting thing I couldn’t report in the States because I’m not a local.

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has some fabulous resources. It has a parents’ portal, an educators’ portal. It also has kids and teens—a good resource there. I also, like another one of yours—Common Sense Media—which they do great reviews of apps and platforms and look at, “Is it safe? Is it dangerous?” The Family Online Safety Institute, FOSI, another one of your people, Stephen Balkam, does amazing work there. The other place, if you’re a parent or an educator and you want really good research, the Cyberbullying Research Center, which is at the University of Florida in partnership with—I’m not sure which universities but in Wisconsin.

Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja—I probably said that wrong—two fabulous researchers in the space of cyberbullying. They pump stuff out all the time. If you want up-to-date current and relevant stuff, I’d be hitting them up as well. You can follow them online. You can sign up for their emails. I know you just had cyberbullying month in the States. Sameer was pumping fact sheets every day for 30 days—really, really good stuff. I have a website, so I’ve got information on it. Again other than the bit about laws and legislation, which are different here, all the other content is absolutely relevant to what you’re seeing over there.

On my Facebook page, Susan McLean Cyber Safety Expert, there’s a whole series of educational videos that I produced in March. They are all there for free to help people learn about all the different topics. Use those as trusted resources, be mindful of where you get your information just like anything when you google something. Option number one isn’t always the best.

Yep, that’s definitely true. What is your website? You referred to it, but you didn’t tell us what it is.

The website is www.cybersafetysolutions.com.au. On my website as well, the videos are there, fact sheets are there, my contact details are there, but you can also purchase my books through my website. One book was published by Penguin, so it’s actually available worldwide, and you can buy it on Booktopia and all of those on Amazon and all the online platforms. It’s called Sexts, Texts and Selfies. It’s about 60,000 words, all about how to keep children safe in the digital space.

Again, the only part of that book that’s not relevant to the States—I’ve sold a ton of copies over there—is the bit about laws and legislation, because that’s different, but everything else is 100% accurate for your listeners.

That’s awesome. It’s definitely important for parents to know what the laws are in your locality. It’s going to vary from country to country, potentially significantly.

Yeah, but your problem is you vary across the country. You don’t have much consistency at all. It’s a nightmare, because there’s this law here and it’s there, but it’s not used there and it’s here and it’s not there. It’s free speech here but it’s not there. It is very tricky. One thing that you do have that is consistent is the child exploitation stuff. That is standard everywhere. What becomes a little bit gray is cyberbullying. Some states have run with really good laws over in America, others haven’t.

My experience in talking with people who have come to be talking about cyberbullying is they’ve gotten particularly poor responses from local police departments. It’s kind of like what you said: “Well, just shut your account down, just block them. We have more important things to deal with,” which is unfortunate.

It’s really sad. A lot of that is lack of knowledge. We’ve got clear laws here and we still have a lack of knowledge. I know the curriculum when you go to the police academy, it’s really crowded. I don’t think they do enough. My argument is always this: frontline police need to be fair with online crimes because there is an online component to a lot of stuff. Obviously cyberbullying, we have a huge issue here with domestic and family violence being conducted online, victims being harassed and stalked online. The burglar that goes into your house to steal stuff, where is he going to sell it? Online, on eBay, Gumtree, Craigslist, or something like that.

The graffiti artist, the dumb ones, they film themselves committing the crime and then upload it to YouTube. It’s everywhere when it comes to any form of criminality, so they should be trying to get on top of it better.

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