Online safety begins in the early years, eSafety Commissioner notes
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Online safety begins in the early years, eSafety Commissioner notes

by Freya Lucas

October 02, 2019

A recent eSafety national survey revealed that 81 per cent of parents with preschoolers said their children were already using the internet, prompting the eSafety Commissioner to note that while being online at a young age can help children build valuable skills through exploration, play and social interaction, it can also expose them to a range of risks, like harmful content, contact with strangers or missing out on physical activity.


The role of early childhood education and care (ECEC) educators, working in conjunction with parents and families, in this space, the Commissioner said, is important in building the foundation for good online safety habits that will protect and serve their children in the years to come. 


To support in this regard, the eSafety Commissioner is developing a new eSafety Early Years program.


The program, the Commissioner said, will provide a suite of online safety resources to meet the needs of young children, their families and their early childhood educators. The resources will support young children’s safe use of technologies and build their understanding of online safety as they grow.


Focus groups have been held with families and early educators to gather evidence and shape the program, while working closely with leading experts to ensure that resources are practical, relevant and engaging.


Consultations have taken place with Professor Susan Edwards, Director of Early Childhood Futures at Australian Catholic University, as well as collaboration with Early Childhood Australia to develop professional learning modules for early childhood educators.  


Additionally, information from the Commissioner read, the program will involve a collaboration with ABC Children and the makers of Play School on an online safety project for 2020.  


The eSafety Early Years program aims to provide families and educators with ideas for positive online experiences with their young children, in ways that reflect how they are already using technology, such as:


  • SAY and SHARE with technology – communicate using video and voice chat technology with family and friends to encourage language capabilities and help children build positive relationships.
  • MAKE and DO using technology – engage in online games and other activities that encourage creativity and empower young children to learn with and about technology.
  • WATCH and EXPLORE on technology – engage with stories from their own and other cultures that provide opportunities to develop critical thinking skills, as well as self-regulation skills such as stopping an online activity when time is up.


Many parents and educators ponder how to speak with children about online safety without scaring them, and as such, the eSafety Early Years program will encourage the sharing of four simple messages, to help children develop online safety awareness and habits they can take to school and beyond.


  • Be safe

    Adults can talk with children about how people and devices can connect (‘talk’) to one another online – so they should only talk and share with people they know.


  • Be kind

    Just like the physical world, social skills matter in the online world. Practice kind words and taking turns with children when they are playing with technologies. Asking before taking a photo will set the example of seeking consent before sharing images.


  • Ask for help

    Evidence from our focus groups indicates that most children ask an adult if they are allowed to use a device. Adults can extend this practice by encouraging children to check with an adult if something goes wrong (such as a pop-up window appearing, or if something they see makes them feel uncomfortable).


  • Make good choices

    Adults can talk regularly with young children about the best things to watch or play online – this develops critical thinking skills that will be fostered at school and help them to understand our media-rich world. It’s also useful to develop strategies to help children transition to offline activities – this will encourage self-regulation of time spent online.


As well as the discussion points above, eSafety offered the following tips, about supporting young children to have a positive introduction to the world of online interaction: 


Play together and manage access

As often as you can (and especially with new games or apps), play alongside children. It will give them the opportunity to see appropriate online behaviour in action. Learn more about encouraging good screen practices from our guest post at Starting Blocks’ Tips for Parents.  


Protect their privacy

Consider the child’s digital footprint before you share images of them on social media and check privacy settings on your account to ensure you are only sharing with people you know and trust. More information about how to use technology tools to set up devices with children’s safety in mind can be found here: Taming the technology


Establish good habits

Experts tell us that children are affected by adults’ use of technology, so it’s a good time to check your own habits. You can help your child to develop good habits from a very young age by establishing routines that manage screen time, define device free places (such as bedrooms) and set up a habit of talking with a trusted adult about the things they see and do with technology. Find out more about what you can do to be a great technology model in our recent blogpost.

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