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Digital Danger Zones: Protecting Our Children Online

Do you know what your children are doing online?

As a parent or guardian, you might not know or underestimate the potentially disastrous consequences of internet bullying and low self-esteem related to online activity and digital predation on young people.

Youngsters today appear attached to the internet via a virtual umbilical cord. We are all aware that every modern invention has a good and bad side. So, as wonderful as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms are for social connection, they are equally capable of being used for social manipulation, bullying and predation.

Education is the Key to Damage Control

Education about the methodology of online predators is crucially important. Teens and tweens love having digital followers. To acquire the following, they may keep their profiles public. This makes them visible to hackers, groomers, criminals and voyeurs. An online predator inveigled the daughter of a close acquaintance into an online 'romance' that cost her more than $10,000. The catfisher tricked her into funding false cancer treatment.

Settings are available to keep a profile private, and young people are better off limiting who can access theirs.

What the Research Indicates

In a report from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the research found that despite 'just under 17,000 reports of online child sexual exploitation received by the ACCCE in 2019, the Australian-first research found only 21% of parents and carers think there is a likelihood that online child sexual exploitation can happen to their child' (AFP, 2020).

The same research study finds that 'four out of five children aged four are using the internet; 30% of these children have access to a personal device' and 'only 51% of the research participants sit with the children while they use the internet'.

The AFP partners with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Datacom, and Microsoft on ThinkUKnow (Think U Know, 2021). This initiative curates excellent resources for parents and educators on strategies to prevent children from becoming targets or victims of online predation. The AFP also works with State and Territory Police on this initiative, and it is well worth checking the advice on this platform.

What is Posted Online, Stays Online

 What young people post online doesn't ever go away, and deleting or erasing things that have left a device is almost impossible. Prospective employers are now using these platforms to check on and assess potential workers.

Beware Who You Trust

Also, if relationships sour, someone trusted might use confidential communication or images against the sender. It is worth advising your children to regard everything they send as capable of ending up being public. Warn them to consider what they post about themselves deeply.

Body Image

In September 2021, a Facebook whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, commented that the company's research indicated their platform, particularly Instagram, was negatively affecting teenagers. The Wall Street Journal printed an article about the harmful effects of viewing Instagram posts, including anxiety, depression and eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Thirty-two per cent of teen girls in the study said if they had poor body image, they felt worse about themselves. Young men are not immune, and 14% feel worse after viewing Instagram (Wells, Horowitz, & Seetharaman, 2021).

In response, Instagram's head of public policy, Karina Newton, commented that the Wall Street Journal story had 'focused on a limited set of findings and cast them in a negative light'. I sympathise with Newton's statement because researching the causality between social media and specific psychological and social outcomes is nearly impossible. It isn't easy to use the data generated by social media research. Statistics can't capture the users' families and social environments or assess their mental states as they engage on these platforms. If we determine these elements, it would significantly improve the interpretation of the data. But, even if we can't prove causality, we must be aware of the issues.

False Sense of Reality

Children and young people see everything from the outside when viewing social media platforms. They cannot know the actual circumstances or motives behind the posts. These are not real experiences, but celebrities and Instagram famous people post a selection of the best experiences. Fear of missing out and envy of what kids perceive as others' amazing normal may impact their self-worth. Their sense of inferiority is built on false, artificial exteriors.

The negative impact of social platforms may have harmful effects on self-esteem. Low self-esteem is proven to reduce quality-of-life outcomes because it blunts risk-taking, reduces resilience to bounce back from mistakes and causes people to become stuck in negative thinking spirals. Feelings of insignificance, loneliness, withdrawal and listlessness have teens feeling like they are walking through treacle.

It can lead youngsters to make destructive decisions, including accepting mistreatment, self-harming, promiscuity or harming others (Solomons, 2013).

What Can Be Done?

We are waiting for the information about the adverse effects of internet use to be publicised. But who is responsible? And who will help your tweens and teens in the meantime?

Because of its fast-moving nature, social media has outrun legislation, societal norms, and user impact. Unlike mainstream journalism, standards and protocols for social media are in their infancy. It is unclear if the platforms are publishers in the traditional sense. Social media giants would be subject to entrenched laws as publishers, but their status as publishers is still being debated.

Parents, Caregivers and Guardians Need to Act

Quite simply, as responsible adults, we can't rely on social media platforms to solve the problem. We have to engage with it ourselves. It's time to transform the situation and create a narrative of using youthful minds and bodies to experience life and achieve unique personal goals. We must shift the focus away from 'appearing' and start a revolution of 'doing'.

Parents have the power to influence a narrative of self-appreciation from an early age, in fact, from infancy. What they say and how they say it can change how their children think. They can provide activities that nurture positive self-esteem. Good thinking is the key to counteracting social media's powerful influences and manipulations.

How can we mitigate against the effects of social media?

As parents, you can immediately work with your kids to hone social media literacy. We can help them form a healthy, balanced identity by applying advanced critical thinking. Good thinking can help them navigate many deleterious influences they will encounter.

360° Thinking

Converse with your family to develop perspective and thinking. Offer different points of view. If you commence doing this from an early age and pay attention to their perspectives during conversations, they are likely to see the value in this thinking.

Framing Perspectives

Frame the experience by examining together how the images these days are photoshopped and manipulated to create near-impossible ideals of body perfection. Before the photoshopping, peers only chose to portray their most enviable selves: one selfie out of twenty that makes them look good.

A Sense of Balance

Talk about appearance as the least important part of a whole life. Emphasise how the body is the vehicle for achievement in many other ways.

Embrace, directed by Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the Body Image Movement, is a well-researched, punch-packing film that shines a light on the issue. Taryn embarked on her film journey when she posted some reverse-order photographs of herself. Her before image was of herself as a sculpted bodybuilder, and her after picture was taken when she had given birth to her baby. The photos caused a tsunami of negative comments. The film is her response; every young person will learn from it (Brumfitt, 2016).

Spreading Optimism

Presenting an optimistic view and offering realistic praise of their accomplishments can also counteract the effects of social media on their psyche.

Not So Fake News

The same 360° thinking can arm your kids with the ability to filter out fake news. Remarkably, kids these days are more immune to the influence of fake news than we think they are. They are possibly more alert than we are.

Develop Face-to-Face Interests

Involving young people in team sports, rock climbing, dance, music, drama, writing, cooking, baking, or strategy games like chess is a great way to interact with real people in real situations. Part-time jobs provide them with key skills that will come in handy later in life and look great on their CVs when they look for work seriously.

Don't ignore the internet's impact. Work with your children and teens to use its advantages and mitigate its negative impacts.


Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is an education consultant and author of ‘Edu-Chameleon’. Lili-Ann’s specialisations are in early childhood education (birth to nine years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition.  She runs her consultancy, Kriegler-Education. Find out more at


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