What we talk about when we talk about cybersecurity: Part two

Talking about bullying online, cybersafety and the new Children’s e-Safety Commissioner almost always focuses on school-aged children. Let’s not overlook babies to preschoolers who are increasingly surrounded by connected and mobile devices. Part II of a series on cybersecurity in early education and care.

It’s national action against bullying day today and the week in which the Australian government announced the appointment of the newly created position of Children’s e-Safety Commissioner.

This follows the government’s enactment of legislation earlier in March to enhance children’s safety online, which was supported by Early Childhood Australia during government consultation. The Commissioner’s new powers include the capacity to force the removal of harmful content online.

Alastair MacGibbon photo

The new e-Safety Commissioner is a former Australian Federal Police officer, Mr Alastair MacGibbon, who has worked in the field of cybersecurity and online safety across government, academic and private sectors. At eBay he was Senior Director of Trust, Safety and Customer Support and since 2011 has been the Director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra.

Mr MacGibbon said he is looking forward to working with industry, child welfare organisations, law enforcement agencies and Australian children and parents to protect children from the growing problem of cyber-bullying. Mr MacGibbon noted that one in five children above the age of eight are exposed to online bullying.

Early Childhood Australia welcomes the creation of the position and Mr MacGibbon’s appointment and looks forward to working with him on the issues as they affect very young children. Policies on online bullying tend to focus on older children. We believe that there are risks and strategies for younger children in a world that is increasingly connected.

The early years are a critical time where patterns and attitudes develop that influence later behaviours, attitudes and skills. Many children are growing up in increasingly connected homes. Figures from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) show the swift uptake of mobile devices in Australian households (ACMA, 2014). While their figures focus on adults many of these households contain very young children and mobile devices that make online access easy at younger ages.

Dr Joanne Orlando, an early childhood lecturer from University of Western Sydney, told Digichild last week that her research shows children are engaging with technology at younger and younger ages.

‘It seems to be a child’s first birthday is the benchmark for when you get your first device’ she said.

Australia lacks comprehensive data on very young children’s online exposure and mobile device use. We need better information about their technology use and the attitudes and behaviours of parents, carers, older siblings and educators around them. This information will help develop protective measures and healthy online strategies relevant to early childhood environments.

One risk we need to avoid is complacency among adults—from policy makers to parents—that online issues are not yet relevant to the youngest children or that it is possible to keep the cyber world away from them. Mobile and connected devices change that.

More sources and resources:

“Tablets take off: take-up and use of tablet computers in Australia”, 2014. www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/engage-blogs/engage-blogs/Research-snapshots/Tablets-take-off-take-up-and-use-of-tablet-computers-in-Australia. Accessed February, 2015.

ECA Digital Business Kit, a free and downloadable resource for early childhood educators and parents, is available from www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/our-work/digital

Free government resources for parents, educators, children and businesses and internet safe activities for children are available from Cybersmart (www.cybersmart.gov.au/) andStaysmartonline (www.staysmartonline.gov.au/online).

Check the Australian government’s Digital Business Kits pages for more links and information.

Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) Strategic Communications Executive, working on projects that support ECA’s reputation as a trusted voice for young children, their families, educators and carers. Clare has been part of ECA's Learning Hub Team, managed ECA's Start Early. Respectful relationships for life project and ECA digital initiatives including the federally funded Digital Business Kit and Live Wires. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for a number of years, including for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government.

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