Last month Minister for Broadband Senator Stephen Conroy said that he was “encouraged” by news that lab tests of ISP-level internet filters showed “significant progress,” since 2005. But what the Senator failed to acknowledge, was that even if the government matched China’s efforts in restricting online access, filters fail to address the major problems that adolescents face online. Filters don’t address the real problems that kids face online: addiction, bullying, security and privacy.

That is not to say that filters are useless. They can be a deterrent to viewing p-rnography and suicide sites, particularly with less tech savvy kids who have not yet learned to bypass filters. And they may reassure the 55% of parents who fear child exposure to p-rnography.

But filters will not help the 30% of Australian kids who are becoming addicted to the internet or the 22% of youth experiencing online harassment. It does nothing for the 17% of adolescents who are concerned about downloading viruses. Filters fail to educate the 34% of kids who do not limit public access to their social networking profiles.

Rather than investing in restricting access, we-schools, parents, and communities-need to teach young people how to minimise potential online risks. Former hacker turned cyber safety advocate Tom Wood said:

The real problem is the lack of knowledge kids have on how to prevent and resolve online issues. Instead of the government mandating filters, cyber-safety education should be mandated in all schools. And young people must play an instrumental role in developing them.

Clearly, the best approach is equipping young people with knowledge to make informed decisions online and avoid risks. The rub will be implementing a meaningful and sustainable cyber-education initiative nationally. To accomplish this, we need to join IT experts, educators, youth psychologists, lawyers, and importantly young people to engage schools and communities.

While we wait for a national initiative to start, we can implement a few simple initiatives at home to help minimise risk. Working with schools, students and parents, I have found the following preventative strategies to be useful:

1. Limit the amount of time spent online, e.g. through family internet ‘contracts’. See more information on managing addiction

2. Report online harassment to website administrators and never respond to aggressors. See Tom Wood’s complete guide to stopping cyber-bullying

3. Set social networking accounts to private and use tools to block or ignore unwanted attention in messaging applications

4. Use judgement when publishing photos or videos. If a future employer (or relative) would cringe, don’t put it online

5. Use partial names or aliases when creating a profile or user name to make it harder to be identified. Avoid identifiable photos in the public headline profile and protect accounts by creating secure passwords.

Tena Panizza is a Melbourne based psychologist. She conducts the “Cyber Savvy” education programme in Melbourne schools. She is conducting a research Ph.D. and works in private practice with cyber-related difficulties.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey