New app helps migrant parents spot dangers children face online

Generic image of child and computer, screenshot of website Source: SBS

The Australian Multicultural Foundation has launched a web app to encourage safe and healthy internet use in Australian homes.Available in 17 languages including Arabic, Somali, Chinese, Hindi, Turkish and Vietnamese, CyberParent is designed to teach parents how to know what their children are doing online and on social media.Maya Jamieson reports.

The idea and the proposal for the app was born out of a series of community workshops and a pilot program run by the Australian Multicultural Foundation, or AMF.

During the workshop participants discussed online safety and how best to monitor their children's online usage.

The app looks at the internet itself, social media, some of the websites and apps that young people use, such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Telegram.

AMF Executive Director Hass Dellal says the workshops revealed that many parents wanted to learn how to best help their children navigate the online world.

"We felt that, look, parents are obviously anxious about the risks the internet poses and want to protect their children from the dangerous material, unwanted contact, online grooming, cyber bullying and radicalisation. And we also felt that if you wanted to deal with these issues, or these behavioural issues, or problems that may arise from the use of the internet - don't get me wrong - it's obviously a wonderful tool and there's so much benefit in it but also we undoubtedly it's necessary to be aware of some of the risks and dangers of the internet as well."

Mr Dellal says the app aims to develop protocols, communication techniques and skills for parents, as well as practical tips such as the meaning of some of the acronyms their children use.

"There's about a set of 80 different acronyms they use online. They've actually made that available for parents, you know, things like 'POS' meaning parent over shoulder, or 'PIR' parent in room. So the families are really excited about that one. That is probably the most popular section of the app, is to get hold of those acronymns!"

Somali born Australian mother Leila Sheikh has had to learn to navigate the online world of her children.

She says many challenges exist but she makes it a priority to monitor her son's usage.

"I sit with him I do my work next to them while they're playing a game or getting access. At the same time I have a chat with them about how important it is to be aware of resources they are looking at, or if someone is bullying me to come and tell me. Show me if he is chatting with someone, who that person is and what age they are."

Her son 12 year-old Ibrahim Abdullah welcomes his mother's input about his internet usage.

"Yeah I think it's a good thing because then you won't be bad in the future and change in your attitude and if your parents help you it will help you be a better person."

Federal eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant says it's essential that parents are engaged in their children's online life from an early age.

"We're now growing up with a generation of children as young as two or three swiping the IPAD and that's the time we should start having those conversations about the digital do's and don'ts. So if we start those conversations early and build those expectations with our kids that we are going to be engaged with their online lives then that sets them up for much more guidance and resilience in the future when they go on major social media platforms at the age of 13 and beyond, and potentially face that digital online onslaught of cyberbullying, potential sexting and image based abuse."

The AMF says while a person's ethnic, religious or cultural background should be a considered a strength, they're also factors that can make young people even more vulnerable to discrimination, isolation and cyber bullying.

eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, says it's an issue that needs to be taken seriously.

"Unfortunately we have seen a decided lack of online civility in everyday life on social media these days. So you do see the contours of misogyny, of racism. Particularly those who are more vulnerable, we want to make sure that we are giving them the tools to not only protect their voices online but to help them promote their voices online."



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