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Chatting with teens is important for online safety

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An Indigenous woman and teenaged girl sit at an outside table bench and table. In the background is a bin and green grass.
Mentoring program director Kylie Duggan (left) and program participant, Ekyra.
17 May 2019

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

Mentoring programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are also playing a 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 mentors to develop a holistic plan to make choices for their future.

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

‘As a mentor for the young girls, my biggest worry is the girls might not think before they post, or not realise the impact it could have on their lives forever,’ Kylie said.

‘Images on the internet last forever, videos last forever. And if you don't think before you act it can be very costly.’

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 reported being contacted by strangers or someone they didn’t know, while 1 in 5 reported being socially excluded online.

The Stars Foundation program has seen negative impacts of social media, with students experiencing cyberbullying, sharing inappropriate images, or even sharing footage of fights.

‘We help the girls stay safe online by checking in with them daily,’ Kylie said.

‘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 said keeping the lines of communication open with students was absolutely essential.

‘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 like Meleeka and Ekyra, they too acknowledged the benefits of trusted people they could talk to if something went 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 brother, my aunties, my uncles and my nana.’  Meleeka said.

‘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.’

‘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.’

Find out more

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

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