Like children themselves, the online landscape changes constantly.

Young people’s real and virtual worlds are colliding and combining more than ever, but parents are failing to keep up with social media and protect their children from the dangers lurking behind the screen.

Social media expert Adrian Lawrie says many parents shy away from trying to understand and monitor their children’s online activity because they are not “IT savvy” or they use apps themselves.

The problem is young people use social media differently to adults and are more vulnerable because they often don’t protect their identity, he warns.

“It’s quite clear that, as a parent, it’s your job to manage and supervise what they are doing online, ” he said.

Mr Lawrie, a teacher and father of four, runs evening classes for parents about “Kids and Today’s Technology” in Perth for Relationships Australia.

“Over the last 18 months the convergence of the real world and the online world has just really boomed, ” he said. “We are carrying these devices around with us everywhere.

“It’s not the virtual world anymore. It’s actually how things are.”

Jeremy Blackman, senior cyber safety specialist at The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, said young people today were so immersed in social media they were willing to overlook the negative aspects and did not think about the future or the consequences of their postings.

The main traps children can fall into online are over- sharing information or images, not protecting their identity or location and failing to realise data they put online will stay there even if deleted.

“Digital data never disappears, ” Mr Blackman said. “There are traces of it for those who know how to find it.”

The anonymous and secret nature of highly popular sites such as Whisper — a secret sharing app — and AskFM can attract bullying, abuse and online predators.

Parents may think a child would log off an app or block any abusive or unwelcome comments, but experts warn it’s not that simple.

“The kids are so wrapped up in being constantly connected to everybody, they don’t do that, ” Mr Lawrie said.

He suggests parents start talking to their children about social media as early as possible and ask older children to show them how to use different social media.

Mr Lawrie said though parents had been advised to know their children’s social media password, they should not force them to pass it on because that risked the child simply setting up alternative accounts.

While children would be friends with their parents on sites such as Facebook, they would also want to find private places on smaller apps and platforms, Mr Blackman said.

The relationship between parent and child is the key. “If the relationships are developed and maintained between parents and children, you can set yourself up to manage this a lot better, ” Mr Lawrie said.

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Apps to watch for


A photo and video sharing app where images ‘disappear’ a few seconds after posting. Adrian Lawrie says the thrill of this often can quickly lead to young people ‘sexting’ and sending inappropriate photos, which can still be captured in a screen shot. Jeremy Blackman says the images do not really disappear and can still be found and shared.


Users can share, like and comment on photos and videos posted by other users. Adrian Lawrie says children use Instagram differently to adults and how it is intended. “As a photo-sharing tool, Instagram is fantastic but the action really takes place in the comments and conversations and potential bullying that goes on, ” he says.


A meeting and dating app that matches people based on their location and Facebook profiles. Tinder says users have to be aged 13 and over. Jeremy Blackman says Tinder is predominately a messaging app for sexual meetings and there is a risk of predation of children and teenagers.


A hugely popular website that allows anyone to post questions, answers and comments to a user’s profile anonymously. AskFM has been linked to a number of teen suicides because of bullying and abuse being posted on the site.

Kik Messenger

A free texting service that uses profile names instead of phone numbers. NSW Police issued a warning about it last year after a teenage girl disappeared to meet a stranger she met on Kik. The bulk of Kik’s 120 million users worldwide, who can use it to connect with strangers, are believed to be aged 11 to 15. “If they are not friends in real life, there is a real risk of exposing your identity to someone you may not want to, ” Adrian Lawrie warns.

Recommended apps

For teens:

Reddit - A community app and website that prioritises internet content based on community voting

Shazam - This app recognises music and media playing around users

Drop 7 - A gaming app designed for short sessions

Biodigital Human - An educative app that virtually explores the inner workings of the human body

Sketchbook Pro - A digital sketching tool

Recommended apps for parents to use with preschool children:

Reading Eggs - Teaches children how to read with online lessons and phonics games

Fisher Price Laugh & Learn - A series that includes apps to help children learn

Monkey Preschool Lunchbox - A simple educational game

Itsazoo - A learn-to-read game that incorporates a child’s own drawings

Bugs and numbers - A maths game

For more recommendations, go to

Tips for parents

- Get online and get involved in your child’s online world. Show an interest in your child’s use of technology and keep the lines of communication open. It’s your job to find out as much as you can about what your child is doing online, while respecting their privacy.

- Have regular conversations as a family about technology, from the latest apps to agreeing on how you all use technology at home. Make sure you initiate this discussion and create an environment where your child feels safe discussing any issues they are having online.

- Avoid banning technology outright. For children, losing access to technology can be even worse than having bad online experiences, so using bans as a punishment can have the opposite of the intended effect.


© The West Australian

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