Professor Susan Edwards speaks out on 20th global Safer Internet Day
The Sector > Practice > Professor Susan Edwards speaks out on 20th global Safer Internet Day

Professor Susan Edwards speaks out on 20th global Safer Internet Day

by Freya Lucas

February 07, 2023

Safeguarding children online starts early – this is the key message of Australian Catholic University (ACU) early childhood online safety expert Professor Susan Edwards in the lead up to the 20th global Safer Internet Day acknowledged today, 7 February.


“The earlier we teach children about how to interact safely, positively and respectfully online, the better online community we can create for learning, play, socialisation and civic participation,” she said.


Research shows almost half of all children received hurtful or nasty treatment online in the past year and more than a quarter behaved that way against others. Everyone had a role to play to make online interactions safer.


Professor Edwards, of ACU’s Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education, is a researcher, author, expert in digital play and cyber safety education, and Director of ACU’s Early Childhood Futures program.


In honour of Safer Internet Day, she took some time to speak with The Sector to share tips for early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals based on her perspective as the lead advisor on the Federal Government’s eSafety Early Years program, as an advisor for Playing IT Safe, and following her recent collaboration with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on the creation of the online safety children’s book, Jack Changes the Game, written by author Tess Rowley.


What does best practice look like when it comes to internet in services? 


Educators thinking of using the internet with children in their services, Professor Edwards began, can start by talking with children about how they use the internet in their daily lives. 


“Just as educators connect with children’s experiences and interests in areas of learning such as literacy, numeracy or science, they can connect with how children interact with the internet at home and in their communities,’ she said. 


This can begin with shared discussions sparked by questions such as: 


  • How do you use the internet at home? 
  • Who do you know who uses the internet? 
  • What do people use the internet for? 


These questions help educators and children understand when and how the internet is used by people for different purposes. Then educators can use the internet with children in their services for real purposes. 


“Perhaps for searching information in response to learning interests, seeking music to enjoy for relaxation, singing, dancing or physical activity, accessing videos to participate in follow-along yoga, ordering food or materials online for the service, or inviting children to participate in the digital documentation of their learning,” the Professor noted. 


“During these shared uses of the internet, educators can invite children into online safety practices, such as discussing appropriate search terms, using trusted websites (e.g., ABC Kids Early Education), selecting video content suited to the purpose of activity, using and protecting passwords, and thinking about how and where they share digital images of themselves. Young children should always be supervised online.” 


What messages (if any) should services be sharing with families about safe internet use? 


Services can support children and families in the safe use of the internet. 


The eSafety Commissioner has advice for parents and caregivers of children aged under five years, inviting families to model safe online practices, such as not sharing passwords and accessing quality and well-designed digital content for this age group. 


They also suggest parents and caregivers complete a family technology agreement with children and encourage children to ask their adults for help if things go wrong online. Playing IT Safe also has messages about supervising children online, creating a family technology agreement and helping young children learn about the internet. 


What is ACU’s Early Childhood Futures program and how can it support educators? 


Early Childhood Futures is a dedicated research program in the Institute of Learning Sciences and Teacher Education at ACU. 


Early Childhood Futures investigates how children, families and ECEC professionals play and learn in diverse contexts. Early Childhood Futures helps educators by advancing understandings of young children’s relationships with digital technologies, including online safety and digital play.


The earlier we teach children about how to interact safely, positively and respectfully online, the better online community we can create for learning, play, socialisation and civic participation – how do we teach children this? What sort of conversations should we be having? 


Young children are part of a digital society. They use technologies every day at home and in their communities. Young children are likely to use video conferencing with friends and family, tablet technologies to play games and apps, and smart TV to engage with online content. They will see their adult family members use technologies to communicate with others, interact with social media, and perhaps to access medical care, education, for paid or non-paid work, or daily activities such as shopping. 


Because young children are part of digital society it is important that educators help children to navigate how and why they participate online. Educators can teach children about being safe, positive and respectful online by using the internet with children in their services for real purposes, modelling appropriate search strategies, talking about passwords, showing children how to select content that meets their needs, inviting children’s permission to take and share digital photographs, and helping children to understand how and where their digital data is used (such as in digital documentation apps). 


Educators can ensure children have plentiful opportunities to create their own technologies for pretend play, such as phones, tablets, voice activation devices, scanners or gaming controllers. When children use technologies for pretend play they participate in activities involving the internet. Educators can facilitate pretend internet-play for learning about online safety by asking questions such as: ‘Who are you messaging on your phone?’ ‘Is that an in-person friend you are video-calling?’ ‘Did you enter your password into your device?’


Are there particular resources that the ECEC sector should be aware of?


There are many well-designed resources about online safety for young children, their families and educators:


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