STARTING THE CHAT WITH TEENS, KEY TO ONLINE SAFETY

For many parents, carers and educators, the challenge of keeping teenagers safe online is all too real.

But mentoring programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are playing their part in helping to set role models for teenagers as they navigate life, including online.

The Stars Foundation, founded by Andrea Goddard, provides a mentoring program for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls. Participants work closely with their mentor to develop a holistic plan to make proactive choices for their future.

Darwin program coordinator, Kylie Duggan, says helping the students understand online risks is a key part of the mentoring role.

“As a mentor for the young girls, my biggest worry is the girls not thinking before they post, or not realising the impact it could have on their lives forever. Images on the internet last forever, videos last forever. And if you don’t think before you act it can be very costly,” says Kylie.

Research commissioned by the Australian Government’s eSafety Commissioner found 1 in 5 young Australians and 1 in 3 adults have had a negative experience online. 1 in 4 young people report being contacted by strangers or someone they don’t know, while 1 in 5 report being socially excluded online.

The Stars Foundation program has seen first-hand the impacts of social media and online activity with students experiencing cyberbullying, sharing inappropriate images, or even sharing footage of fights.

Seeing the need to protect their students’ online safety as well as their physical safety, the program mentors talk with the girls about ways to stay safe online.

“We help the girls stay safe online by constantly checking in with them, daily. We give them advice about the appropriate steps to take and how to remove things if possible. Letting others know that it’s not appropriate to post those things and prompting our students about the way to do the right things online is an important part of our program.”

Kylie says, keeping the lines of communication open with students is absolutely essential, if you want to help protect their safety online.

“You have to ensure that you build that relationship with the student first. It allows an opening to discuss personal topics with the student. They need to feel comfortable talking to you and opening up to you about issues that they are experiencing online. And it’s something they can always remember and feel comfortable and confident that they can come to you at any time.”

For the program’s young participants, they too acknowledge the benefits of trusted people they can talk to if something goes wrong.

“I chat to my parents because they’re easy to talk to and I trust them a lot. But I also get help to stay safe online from my Stars mentor, my parents, my brother, my aunties, my uncles, my nana,” says Meleeka.

“I think it’s important to talk about online safety because people share a lot of inappropriate things. If we talk about it, we can stop that kind of behaviour.”

“Yeh, it’s so important to talk to someone if you are feeling unsafe online. It can really affect your mental health – but if you talk to someone you trust it can really help,” says Ekyra.

For tools and tips to help you start the chat about online safety, visit esafety.gov.au.