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We all know that it’s important to have conversations with your child about what’s happening in their life, which includes their online life, but it can be daunting to know where to start. This isn’t helped by the fact that this topic can be a source of tension in the home, in fact, according to the Growing Up Digital Australia report, two-thirds of Australian parents say that negotiating about digital technologies causes conflict in their homes.

As a parent or caregiver, you want to engage with your child on their level, to learn their world. Doing this can help you to understand your child at their best, so that you have a comparison point to recognise when they may be facing a challenge or struggle – but just how do you get started? This short guide can point you in the right direction.

Start young and make it a habit

We’ve all heard the phrase, “start as you wish to continue”, and when it comes to online safety for young people, this is a great approach. If you’re able to, starting a dialogue with your child right when they start using screens and devices can lay a good foundation. The eSafety Commissioner has some practical tips for starting these conversations with children under 5.

Choose the right time and location

Take time to recognise situations in which your child responds best to a conversation – this will vary for each child, but it might be worth considering if it’s worth picking a time when there are other things to focus on. Try chatting while you’re doing an activity – perhaps while walking, can help break down barriers. A short car ride can also be a good place to get a chat rolling – just make sure you have enough time to get everything covered and they aren’t running out the door mid-conversation.

Prepare your approach

Knowing how to converse with children is a skill in itself. Raising Children have resources to keep you on track for all kinds of conversations. When it comes to bringing up specific topics related to technology use, make things less intimidating by starting with a broad open-ended question before narrowing in to counter any concerns – here are some examples:

  • Have you been playing any games online lately?
  • Follow up by asking about the games and how they are played – this can open dialogue around keeping safe in online gaming.
  • Have you seen any funny videos online today?
  • Ask them to tell you what they found entertaining about the content, which may lead to conversations about what is and isn’t appropriate to consume or share.

If your child is apprehensive to share their own experiences, model positive behaviour by sharing something that you’ve been up to.

Know the right lingo

Being able to keep pace with your child’s conversations will go a long way in making them comfortable to have those chats with you. Start by getting yourself familiar with some of the terminology they might be using – if they’re into gaming, our Gamers Guide is a great place to start – but if they’re regularly using a term you don’t understand, ask them to explain it, and by remembering and using it in the future, you’re able to demonstrate your engagement with their passions.

Plan for challenges

It's a good idea to know in advance how to block or mute people whose behaviour may be upsetting your child if they reveal information about this during your chat with them. You can report concerning behaviours to the platform where it happened, and serious unresolved concerns like cyberbullying or image-based abuse to the eSafety Commissioner.

Know where to go if more support is needed

It’s important to be prepared to respond if something arises in conversation that is concerning or distressing for either you or your child. Having contacts and resources on hand is a great way to counter this – for more information, the eSafety Commissioner is a useful resource to access, and if you’re looking for someone to speak to, the team on the Dolly’s Dream Support Line can provide you with advice and guidance. You can contact the support line on 0488 881 033.